Where's Dom gone?
Hampstead Theatre, London
Was Dom fond?
“Do you believe that beauty is more than skin deep?”, asks Hollywood star Diva (Sian Thomas) of an aspiring actress (Ruby Bentall). This question seemed strangely appropriate as I gazed out over the fantastically conceived and constructed set in the Downstairs of the Hampstead theatre; for if beauty was only skin deep, then this would be a five star review. Designer Lucy Osbourne transforms the small space into a lavish studio apartment overlooking sunny California in magnificent fashion. It was an apartment fit for a king, or at least some kind of Mayor.
Nigel Gearing's Blue Heart Afternoon focusses around Ernie (Stephen Noonan), a Jewish man who grew up in New York and against the odds became an Oscar winning songwriter, as he tries to cast his new motion picture. Simple, right? No. This is a time when the USA is on the brink of World War 3 with the USSR, and the government is sifting through the performance industry to weed out the commies. They have already gotten to Ernie's close friend, the aptly named Buddy. Overnight, Ernie finds his life, and that of those close to him, at risk.
The first half of the play lacks momentum, and relationships between characters seem to develop quicker than the British economy depreciates in value; you may feel a tad left in the dark as to why all these socialites get on so well. However, have an inhaler ready, because the second half barely leaves time for you to catch your breath, with the twists and turns in the story coming at a frantic pace. This is one of the only shows I've ever seen in which the ending took me completely by surprise; the action preceding it was so captivating that you are too involved to see it coming. The small ensemble is fantastic, with Sian Thomas the outstanding performer – every word is convincing and every movement elegant, as she plays a glamorous actress looking to revive her career.
All in all, director Tamara Harvey paints a pretty picture of dreadful events. This piece starts slowly, but if you have the patience to wait for the second half, you will be justly rewarded. Is beauty more than skin deep? Well, to reference a certain Diva, this production has one pretty pancreas.
Blue Heart Afternoon runs until the 12th of May, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.