Heart's Desire

Caryl Churchill
Quintus Theatre Company
The Lantern Theatre, Liverpool

Heart's Desire

Playwright Caryl Churchill has won a list of prizes for her work including the Olivier BBC Award for Best Play (1988) and The Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy (1987). All of which just goes to show, you trust awards at your peril.

For their latest production, Quintus Theatre Company has chosen one of Churchill’s lesser known plays in Heart’s Desire. Depending on your point of view, this play will either send you home in awe of the playwright’s ingenuity or it will send you home rather underwhelmed, where you might well ask yourself what all the fuss is about.

Churchill has long been the darling of the theatrical intelligentsia with work that is always eccentric, always challenging, always… Churchillian. Who can forget the scene from Top Girls with six characters all talking at once, talking incessantly? Genius or gibberish?

Thus it was nothing if not a brave move for this company to take Churchill away from metro land into the hinterlands. If this piece was going to work anywhere at all in Liverpool, then there was ever only one location in town: The Lantern Theatre is easily Liverpool’s most eclectic and atmospheric theatre space. So far so good.

A dining table ready for high tea is an appropriately sparse set, sombre even. Anticipation hangs in the air and on the table in the shape of a bone china teapot and fairy cakes.

Performers Jessie Harris (Maisie) Lesley Staum-Lewis (Alice) and Nick Wright (Brian) are all on top form as a fractious, nervous trio awaiting the return of a daughter from Australia. All three actors cope exceedingly well with a particularly demanding script—one which requires Groundhog Day repetition together with subtle shifts and nuances as the scene progresses.

One can only admire these young performers for having a crack at this. For this is a production that cannot be faulted in terms of acting and presentation. Production manager Gemma Bamford and her team of actors manage to pull this off, an achievement in itself worthy of praise.

As a piece of theatrical entertainment however, I’m not sure Churchill’s play quite merits the kind of praise so deserving of the boys and girls of Quintus. Yes, it’s quirky—different, and would probably go down much better as a starter, or a curtain raiser for the footlights or some such other organisation. As a standalone piece though it feels slight.

Nevertheless, full marks to Quintus and to the Lantern Theatre for daring to do something different. The only weak link here is the script.

Reviewer: David Sedgwick