Sunday, 15 January 2017

REVIEW: He(Art) at Theatre N16




He(art)is a one-hour long drama that sees two couples of actors play alternate scenes in the round, with their stories boundto collide. The four of them are always in sight and, whilst two are centre stage, the others sit in the corner. The play opens in an art gallery, where Niall's set design isboth functional and original. There are a variety of small propshanging from the golden ceiling (either inside plastic bags or secured to a hook) ready to be picked up at the right moment.The use of lighting is minimal and some musical inserts help to frame the scenes with smooth and well-rehearsed transitions. Careful direction makes sure that the actors never stay too long in the same spot and I don't mind them occasionally turning their backs on me.

In the gallery, Alice (Alex Reynolds) is discussing the meaning of a painting with her sceptical boyfriend Rhys (Jack Gogarty). They're trying to choose something for their living room but their discordanttaste and interpretation of art make the job harder than expected. Also, Rhys isn't feeling well and Alice insists for him to go and see a doctor. Meanwhile, Kev (Shane Noone) is released from prison and goes to meethis sister Sam (Flora Dawson): their mother is seriously ill but the NHS won't pay for the operation, so they need to make a plan. Somehow, the four of them lay eyes on the same painting and this will be a test of their willpower.

Despite the promising plot and the lively comic edge, He(art)lacks dramatisation. Alice's role is unsatisfying and I can't tell if this is due to the part being underdeveloped or to Alex Reynolds' flat impersonation. Her performance is completely overshadowed by the astonishing Flora Dawson, who delivers a convincing and unique rendition of her character.

Director Niall Phillips' and playwright Andrew Maddock's previous collaboration in the critically acclaimed In/Out (a feeling) demonstrated a serious engagement towards a more inclusive and accessible theatre. As an actor, producer and artistic director of Lonesome Schoolboy Productions, Niall has been working extensively in projects involving young people with disabilities or behavioural disorders and believes that taking part in a performance – as an audience or a
cast member – can have a high impact in changing people's lives. He strives to offer shows that send out a positive message and that must be able tolinger in the mind of the spectators long after they've left the auditorium. In the case of He(art), though, the goal hasn't been entirely achieved yet and the piece's core meaning is yet to be uncovered. Whilst watching it, I kept waiting for some sort of revelation that never arrived – like a relevant turnaround or an original take on what people are ready to do for love. Strong of their previous prolific collaboration and great synergy, Maddock and Phillips have all the potential to fill their work with sparkle and I'll be looking forward to a further development of this piece.

Something I really enjoyed (and took home with me) is Rhys' definition of an artist as 'someone who makes something that makes you feel something'. Simple, striking and easy to share, right as the rest of the play ought to be.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★

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