Review: Dirty Hearts (Old Red Lion)

Dirty Hearts, a new play by Paul Murphy, looks at relationships, friendships, ethics, secrets and morals close to home.

A group of friends are meeting to go out for dinner. Ben (a poster-book Toryboy performance from Pierro Niel-Mee) and Laura (an emotional Isabel Della-Porta) have an announcement to make, but Julienne (a spiky Allegra Marland who also demonstrates a soft side) has a meltdown when she hears it. Her partner Simon (a tender yet complex John MacCormick) is far more laidback.

In this tricky timeline which jumps around (mostly in the immediate future of 2023-4), we get to know these people and their personal and professional conflicts.

There is no character you can really warm to in this show. Your opinion of each may change as each scene, jumping backwards and forwards in the narrative, adds in another piece of the jigsaw.

Production photo from Dirty Hearts

In Murphy’s world, it is unclear who is the user and who is being used. What seems best for one character at first becomes a decision with an agenda later.

With all four actors on stage throughout, often detached, frozen in space, or lost in thought, we may watch the main scene between two of them but be drawn to another.

A simple explanation, if recalled later, may take on more significance. The ethics of what is expected in the working worlds of finance, art appraisal, neurosurgery or activism are explored and criticised.

At ninety-five minutes straight through, Dirty Hearts is sometimes in danger of overload. It is well-performed but I didn’t quite get on board with the characterisations: these are people who are fake even to themselves.

Production photo from Dirty Hearts

However, stick with this and pay attention to the projected dates as the play progresses, and you will be rewarded by a script which tries to bring something different to the sphere of romantic comedy and its downright hypocrisy.

Director Rupert Hards makes the most of the small stage with its silver-white walls and shiny floor (designed by Sophia Pardon and lit by Hector Murray). The locations may change but the script is always based around a revelation.

You can watch Dirty Hearts at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 30 April: for tickets go here.

Image credit: Marc Brenner