When the results came through from the EU referendum a year ago, one message was clear: the so-called metropolitan elite had underestimated the feelings of people living in regions across England from Cornwall to East Anglia. In Matthew Campling’s new play, The English Heart, there is clearly a lot more going on in the countryside than we imagined apart from anti-European grumblings.
When handsome, flirtatious Londoner André buys a weekend getaway next door to young couple Marie and Jake, he ignites a maelstrom of lust and emotion that he didn’t anticipate. Conducting illicit affairs with both husband and wife behind each others’ backs, he soon learns that his no-strings approach to relationships does not take into account the ways of the English heart.
It is set in Boston in Lincolnshire, where 75% of people voted to leave the EU – and near where the playwright owned a farmhouse for 17 years. The story takes place against the backdrop of the referendum, the rise of Theresa May and the latest General Election but this feels foisted on what would otherwise have been a delightful and insightful sexual and social comedy. The action often stalls as characters attempt poor political jokes and musings on Brexit that have little to do with the narrative despite valiant but failed attempts to tie them in thematically.
Andrew Jardine is suitably charming and sexy as André, who is both sexually liberated and naive in his understanding of relationships. As Marie, Anya Williams is hungry for love and affection, often to hilarious extremes, while Jake Williams brings a fragile puppy-dog appeal to her needy husband, Jake. Aside from reservations about the efforts to inject political topicality, The English Heart is directed by Campling with vim and vigour, working with the cast to give us an upbeat and funny play about the pitfalls of forming preconceived assumptions about other people.
Running to July 2, 2017