Heart is a passionate love story set against the growing political turmoil arising from the nationalisation of the Iran oilfields in the 1950s. Lilli (Serena Manteghi) is progressively ahead of her time and falls in love with the unstable poet Kais (Tarrick Benham).
Fearing a scandal, Lilli’s parents ship her off to Durham where, homesick, she forms a relationship with the reserved Arthur (Matt Jamie). But the reason Arthur knows Iran so well is that he is actually a spy helping to plot a coup.
The mixture of personal and political gives rise to some contrivances in Steven Gaythorpe‘s script. The need to give the audience background to specific political events necessitates characters constantly listening to the radio news or dictating diary entries and reports. This stylised approach does, however, fit in with the heightened atmosphere that comes from direction of Nazli Tabatbai-Khatambakhsh.
There are so many elements in the production (poetry, dance, mime and chanting) that is could easily have become messy and distracting. Yet Tabatbai-Khatambakhsh is able to blend all the ingredients into a mixture that is both intoxicatingly rich and also unified.
Tabatbai-Khatambakhsh uses the choreography of Katie Armstrong to define the characters by movement as much dialogue. Manteghi and Tarrick do not so much move as flow together, constantly touching and moving in unison. By comparison, Manteghi and Jamie are stiff and artificial, standing side by side but not making eye contact.
The dance sequences become blazing scenes of passion both denied and consummated. Manteghi draws out the desperation of Lilli’s sterile marriage by literally climbing all over her unresponsive husband as Jamie stands in embarrassed isolation.
This is a strongly evocative production, not just of the passions of the relationship but also of the time and place. The bright clothing of Manteghi and Tarrick’s slicked back hair gives the feel of a hot climate compared to the shabby and dusty backrooms where Jamie does his sly work. Excellent use is made of simple props with rose petals, generally the symbol of love, used to signify also the spilling of blood.
The ambitions of Heart are so great that it is hardly surprising that not all are realised. Unless you already have an awareness of the historical context in which the play is set, it is hard to appreciate fully the significance for the characters of the events referenced.
Whilst Lilli’s memory of her first love explains her inability to consummate her marriage, it is hard to determine whether Jamie is incapacitated by a war wound or self-disgust at his manipulation of his wife. Yet Heart remains a feast for the senses bringing heat to a chilly spring evening.
Heart continues touring the UK and full dates are here.