Heart – Brixton House Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Jade Anouka

Jade Anouka makes performing seem easy. Without missing a beat or a word, she tells her story through rhyme, rap and song. On stage for 60 minutes, she is always a hypnotic presence.

Based on her life story, Heart begins with a wedding. Everyone says that Anouka and her husband make a handsome couple, but the depression experienced by both of them means that their marriage quickly dissolves. She moves back home to the chagrin of her father. She copes with the heartache by taking up running, and then she takes up sex.

By the time she meets Boyfriend No. 2, the show threatens to lose focus and rubs dangerously close to solipsism. These first 20 minutes, although funny in parts and always excellently performed, sprawl through Anouka’s past. This rather long introduction, however, reveals an emptiness in Anouka’s life that she doesn’t know how to fill.

Thankfully, the play’s heart is reached when she meets a woman at a party. They begin a relationship, but Anouka can’t quite come to terms with the sexual identity that going out with a woman implies. Should she be ashamed of being gay or bi? Will it mean that she is offered less acting work? Will she have to play queer characters for the rest of her career?

It may seem that the world we live in today would be more accepting of a lesbian couple, but Britain’s politics appear to be shifting to the right under the Conservative Government with Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch determined to crush the progress the LGTBQ+ community has made. With this in mind, even though Anouka’s love story lacks dramatic weight, Heart is a political stance as well as a performance.

And yet Anouka’s politics are gentle and warm; there is no furious grandstanding here. Falling in love is the oldest story in the book, although it feels new and alive when Anouka tells it. Elevating the words and the rhythms of Anouka’s monologue is music, performed live, by Grace Savage. There’s even a little beatbox too. Savage’s score soars with delight and rumbles with sadness and joining the synchronicity between the words and the music is Richard Owen’s simple but effective light design.

But above all, like its title, Jade Anouka’s show is generous and hopeful. As she herself says’ it’s amazing what you see/When you open yourself to the world’. Heart is a pride flag flying high in the sky.

Runs until 3 February 2024

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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