Written and directed by Joel Horwood, I Heart Peterborough explores the tumultuous relationship between Michael, with alter-ego Lulu, and his son Hew, as they present their unusual story. Having come from a four-week run at the Edinburgh Fringe, the production feels nicely matured and the Soho Theatre Studio is well suited to this striking piece.
As Lulu, the cross-dressing diva, Michael takes the limelight, building from his early memories and obsessions to his first meeting with Hew, his transformation into Lulu, and the eventual breakdown of this troubled and inter-dependent relationship. Providing dramatisation for all the other characters, as well as musical accompaniment and wardrobe assistance, Hew is initially sidelined as the sustainer of Lulu's vision, before forcing her to listen to his side of the story. Hew is chaotic and bumbling, Lulu is the accomplished performer, revelling in telling the good, bad, and often violent events of her experiences in Peterborough.
While all of their interactions, from the madly comic to the heartbreaking, feel uneasy and even abusive, there is also real tenderness, and it is credit to Milo Twomey and Jay Taylor that this balance is maintained. Twomey in particular manages to bring humanity to Lulu, and the few times when her formidable armour is dropped make for some of the most poignant moments in the play.
In switching between different eras, as well as switching between telling the audience about events and re-enacting them, there are times when it's unclear just what we are watching. Towards the end of the play, it becomes clear that this is not just bedroom cabaret, but that real experiences are being depicted in real time, and in places this transition is a little vague.
However, in sharply and eloquently evoking the detail of these two lives, Horwood has delivered a play that is vivid and deeply affecting; credit is deserved for bringing this curious part of the world to our attention.