He(Art) at Theatre N16
Written by Andrew Maddock and directed by Niall Phillips, He(Art) at Theatre N16 is pub theatre at its core: intimate, inspired, unstructured, raw and poignant. Intensity of emotion is magnified by the small space and minimal division between stage and audience. Combined with an atmosphere of complicit conviviality created by the natural informality of a pub environment, conventional barriers between viewer and performer are non-existent. Watching what at first can seem to be a slightly incomprehensible, informal sketch evolves into a scenario in which spectators are completely involved – weeping and gasping in apparent fear and horror. The beauty of this piece sneaks up on you and sweeps you away.
Much of the success of this work can be attributed to the excellence of the actors, whose conviction compels the audience to engage. Very simply, the story alternates between two sets of characters, a young couple in a gallery arguing about art and her worry about his heart condition, and, alternately, bantering and distraught siblings from a broken home who have obvious criminal associations. When two are performing the other duo are frozen in the shadows in suspended animation, and the characters’ connection is unknown until the play’s climax.
Londoners Rhys (Jack Gogarty) and Alice (Alex Reynolds) are clearly very much in love, although in certain ways quite different. She is a successful art gallery curator and he cleans windows, perhaps because of his congenital heart condition. They completely disagree about the value of art, and he resists her worried urging to take better care of his health. Surface portrayals eventually evolve to reveal deeper realities: Rhys is insecure about himself; Alice is so demoralised she threatens to leave. But with evident underlying mutual esteem, their differences and misgivings are movingly overcome by their love.
In Wembley, the interaction between distressed, overwrought Kev (Shane Noone) and a desperate Sam (Flora Dawson) is fraught with both affection and tension. After a seemingly random and meaningless, although touching, exchange between emotionally damaged siblings – who buoyantly call themselves “Wembley Warriors” – a dangerous plot to save their sick mother is gradually uncovered.
The piece opens and concludes with two people looking at art, saying nothing, as if to show the insignificance of benign appearances in contrast with multitudes of emotional complexities beneath. Written with thoughtfulness and insight and well directed, He(Art) is poignant and shocking, but ultimately heartwarming.
Photo: Jesse Night
He(Art) is at Theatre N16 from 10th until 28th January 2017, for further information or to book visit here.