By Francis Grin
Directed by Jamie Blake
Heart Into Mouth is a short and (bitter)sweet piece of theatre which ran for one night only this Saturday as part of the Pub Theatre Festival (Friday 30th March to Saturday 14th April 2018), which showcases new writing and talent. The cosy, stripped-back theatre space was upstairs at the Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham, and perfectly accommodated the show’s two actors, their props (two coathangers), and set pieces (two chairs). Clocking in at half an hour, the piece followed the more-or-less autobiographical trials and tribulations of a struggling actress as she juggles degrading catering work with degrading auditions and in general a showbiz life which is, well, not all it’s cracked up to be.
This work exhibited how a number of theatrical elements can be pulled off successfully when written and acted just right. These include: the use of the second person; intertwining/interweaving anecdotal plots; repetition; and multiple roles portrayed by two actors, mainly differentiated through accent and physical mannerism. Actors Fleur de Wit and Davey Seagle took the opportunity to demonstrate their accent work and ran with it – to this reviewer’s (admittedly Australian and easily impressed) ears, each strain of Irish, RP, American, Southern, and various British brogues sounded very authentic and perfectly pitched for comedy. Because despite the somewhat grim subject matter, comedy it was, of the sort which alternated between inducing wry snickers, hearty chuckles, disbelieving/mortified groans, and the occasional suckerpunch aimed right at the heart strings.
By the sounds of it, most of the audience was comprised of theatre industry veterans, and a lot of the material hit almost a little too close to home (though I doubt Heart Into Mouth would be enjoyed half so much by non-industry punters). Perhaps not all of us had been dressed in offensive/humiliating costumes and made to burn our hands on roast turkeys, or brought to animalistic tears after repeating a passage from King Lear until it no longer made sense, or having to sit through an Uber driver’s account of his own prowess at African singing. But I’d be willing to bet that most members of that audience had, at some point, found themselves staring in the mirror after yet another rejection or nightmare hospitality shift, and wondered…. is it all worth it? Have I made the right choice?
This play does not answer that question. Instead, it posits – out of the blue, from an entirely unexpected source of wisdom – that it doesn’t matter what you choose. It just matters that you choose.
For a half-hour two-person one-night-only upstairs-in-a-pub play, Heart Into Mouth got a lot of things very right. To be honest, having read its short description on a flyer and realising that it was largely autobiographical, I had been expecting something a lot more… look, there’s no other word for it: wanky. Instead, it struck just the right balance between self-deprecating hilarity and genuine anger at and criticism of our treatment of people in both the arts and hospitality industries, with truly affecting moments sprinkled throughout stories that were so ridiculous they could only be real. For the most part, the performance was smooth and polished, the actors only stumbling on lines once and recovering quickly. Seagle and de Wit had excellent professional chemistry, bouncing off and perfectly complementing each other’s styles. Thirty minutes was just the right amount of time for this piece as well – if it were shorter it would be unsatisfying, longer and the premise might not hold out. As such, it could be difficult to find another appropriate context in which to stage it, but I hope that such an opportunity does crop up, because this sparkling little gem merits more time in the light.