Friday, 25 January 2013

Straight from the Heart - review

Written by: Daisy Thurston-Gent

Leicester Square Theatre, London

Returning to the Leicester Square Theatre, Straight from the Heart is a warming tale of love told in the midst of upheaval and confusion in the shadow of life-threatening illness. In association with the British Heart Foundation, the show tells the true story of a relationship that is pushed to its limits in the face of catastrophe when the lives of loving couple Bob and Cath are jeopardised.

The play is set in a piano bar of The Blandford Country Hotel, where the characters are set to have a final rendezvous before a conclusive heart operation that will determine their future. As the audience enter they are engulfed by soft piano underscore. The light-hearted jazz immediately relaxes the crowd, creating an unpretentious ambience for the ensuing action. In the atmospheric gloom of this basement space we are instantly greeted by Kevin Short’s flirtatious film-quoting anti-hero: Bob. His personality is full of endearing identifiable attributes (including extensive references to his “randy” sex-life), which promotes a certain playfulness in his character, ensuring the audience are not insulted by his lured gestures; Bob is honest and truthful from the beginning and that is why he is so appealing. Short carries the plot with ease, with impeccable comic timing and an eclectic showcase of original lyrical material, shining as the central protagonist.

The first act is dedicated to Bob: a chain-smoking, beer drinking husband and pub-owner whose vivacious lifestyle is taking its toll on his body. Short reels in his audience by giving this figure an immediate likeability, punctuating his speeches with timeless iconic specificity as he quotes from his favourite films. This friendly personality extends beyond the curtain call; the cast remain onstage while Short contextualises the play, revealing his own personal alliance with its script before promoting the association with the British Heart Foundation, and finally announcing that he will be welcoming his audience to converse with him in the bar after the show.

Short’s Bob progresses naturally, building a charismatic persona which increases audience appeal. But whilst there is extensive attention given to Bob, it causes Holli Hoffman’s Cath to fall a little flat. Despite achieving moments of true heartache within her central monologue, her performance is all too often masked by the presence of Short’s Bob when the two are together in the space.

Joining the couple onstage is the talented musical hand of accompanying pianist Benjamin Croft. He plays throughout the show, subtly underscoring the earnest monologues with an original score written by Kevin Short himself. The music glides from number to number, unexpectedly enhancing the characters’ relationship, before withdrawing to leave the pair alone for a final intimate exchange without musical guidance. In the final moments we see Hoffman’s Cath, alone at the piano playing a simplified reprise of the show’s tagline ‘I know I’ve always loved you, straight from the heart’, bringing the piece to a well-rounded, affectionate close.

Short approaches the audience with ease; singing to the women on the front row, drinking from their wine glasses and retreating with a smile on his face and the crowd on his side. His recital is nothing but amicable. Ultimately, Straight from the Heart is a quaint theatre experience that isn’t afraid to be old school, adding a bit of old fashioned spice to a love story under threat in the modern world.

This production runs until 27th January 2013.
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