Review: HEART, Brixton House

Jade Anouka and Grace Savage bring their hit show to London for a limited run

By: Jan. 26, 2024
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Review: HEART, Brixton House

Review: HEART, Brixton House “This is perhaps a story for all the misfits, all those who have ever felt ‘other’.” Jade Anouka’s debut play tells the story of love, heartbreak, mental health challenges, and fresh starts - it’s (mostly) a monologue, backed by music from Grace Savage, and has previously been produced by Audible Theater, with live performances in New York and Edinburgh ahead of this run.

The story begins with the protagonist getting married to her first serious boyfriend, full of joy and a feeling of being untouchable, before cracks begin to show; her husband has periods of mental ill health, in which she tries to be “the perfect wife” and take care of him - only to find that it’s pushing her to breaking point as well. What follows is a journey to self-discovery, as she falls in love with a woman for the first time and reflects on what it is she really wants from life.

This confessional piece is perfectly suited to the intimate surroundings of Brixton House, as it almost makes you feel as if a friend is connecting with you individually, opening up and speaking her truth. Moments when she ditches the microphone and just speaks freely to the room serve to heighten this feeling. Anouka is a charming and engaging storyteller who demonstrates a real command over the beats (musical and theatrical) of the play, taking the audience with her through the highs and lows of the narrative with ease.

She’s adept at showing emotional depth, but also at getting laughs - whether it’s with a cheeky look or a witty set of lines, it underlines the brilliance of live theatre. A particular highlight for the whole audience seemed to come about halfway through, “This new life / This bi life / Bye old life / Hi new” - all while in a costume of block pink, blue and purple (representing the bisexual pride flag).

It’s described in the playtext as a “poetic play”, and it really lives up to that in practice. Just as Shakespeare and his peers would write in verse, Anouka has structured her play poetically; a lot of the time it’s quite free-flowing, but when things become more intense she switches up to a tighter rhythm and uses rhyme for emphasis - it’s an incredibly effective way of getting a point across. Richard Owen’s lighting design also plays its part here, changing the mood in an instant with a switch from a wash of colour to isolating spotlight.

The innate poetry of the piece is enhanced by Grace Savage’s compositions, which she performs live; though it could work as recorded backing music, it’s far more dynamic this way - and the fact that Savage’s involvement is far more personal than some audience members may first realise makes it extra special.

At the beginning of the play, Anouka introduces it by mentioning that yes, it’s a show that’s been written and performed by a black woman, but that isn’t what it’s about: “The fact that she is black and a woman is political enough.” (Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison in American Fiction would feel vindicated by this approach.) Instead it opens its doors to anyone who can relate to it, whether in the fine details or in a more abstract way.

There’s something for everyone in this hour-long play, and it’s well worth taking the time out to make this connection.

HEART is at Brixton House until 3 February

Photo credit: Henri T