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I Heart Peterborough – Soho Theatre, London

Writer and director: Joel Horwood

Reviewer: Jonathan Grant

[rating:2]

I Heart Peterborough is a piece of drama that may be brilliantly performed but unfortunately lacks a direction in its construction. While programme notes suggest it is drawn from “modern suburbia”, the publicity flyer makes reference to the play’s location being “a city stuck in the fens” and as a further contradiction, co-producer Eastern Angles’ website refers to the play being “a desperate tale of life in an overspill town”. That these three diverse descriptions emanate from the production’s own creative team suggest the fact that this is a play still struggling to define its own identity. As it happens, the setting of Joel Horwood’s work is probably best described as “grim provincial”.

The story tells of Lulu, a gay transvestite and his son Hew (sired in a moment of unprotected adolescent exploratory sex) tracking both men’s trajectories from birth, with a scope that commences in the 1960’s but is largely played out in the 70’s and 80’s. Life for this unconventional pair is hard, particularly with local folks’ intolerance of Lulu’s sexuality, the older man frequently referring to beatings he has suffered. Hew too has a difficult upbringing leading to a chilling description of having been raped among the riverbank reeds while an adolescent. Peterborough, the place, is not flattered by this play and while the City Council is credited with having provided public funds to support the work, it is a disappointment that the picture created of this historic city is so two-dimensional.

Milo Twomey and Jay Taylor as father and son provide outstanding performances of commitment and energy. Twomey’s poise, timing and movement is as perceptive an impersonation of a female as could be wished for and Taylor effortlessly voices a multitude of characters that the pair encounter, as well as portraying the damaged young man. The two perform snatches of classic 80’s songs throughout the single act that serve to define the period well.

While the play has rare moments of genuine humour, (a mimed karaoke session is technically brilliant) and may indeed be imitating life as its arc frequently switches between moments of frivolity and misery, it struggles to be more than an extremely well-acted but nonetheless confused and ultimately unsatisfying, portrayal of East Anglian life.

Runs until 20th October

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