“L’Amore del Cuore” (“Heart’s Desire”) at Coronet Theatre

Tom Bolton in west London
16 June 2024

Italian company lacasadargilla bring their touring production of Caryl Churchill’s short play Heart’s Desire to the Coronet Theatre, home to quality European theatre. Very few venues in the UK specialize in drama from the Continent. Arguably there are none beyond the Edinburgh Festival, so we should be very grateful to Artistic Director Anda Winters. The quality of stage work outside the UK, in countries such as Belgium, Ireland, and Germany, is often very high. The instinct to push expectations and explore the boundaries of the form lies at the heart of theatre culture in a way rarely seen in the UK mainstream, and lacasadargilla exemplify this spirit of challenge.


Photo credit: Sveva Bellucci.


So does Caryl Churchill. Undoubtedly our greatest living playwright, she does not receive the hometown love she deserves and seems more appreciated elsewhere. It falls to an excellent Italian company to revive a neglected piece from 1997, originally the first of a double bill of one-act plays entitled Blue Heart but here staged alone. Performed in Italian (with English surtitles) L’Amore del Cuore fully affirms the quality of Churchill’s work.

Three family members sit around a table, waiting for the daughter whose homecoming is expected any moment. The dialogue keeps starting again, as they repeat the same lines with variations in tone and content. Different versions of the scene play out, driven by the stage directions which are read out by a fourth character (Fortunato Leccese) who occasionally enters to play the family’s wayward son. The repetitions are freighted with suppressed violence. Francesco Villano, as the father, is a menacing stage presence, working himself into a frenzy of accusation against his wife (Tania Garribba), sometimes in a whisper, sometimes a table-banging fury. Sister-in-law Alice Palazzi is stuck awkwardly in between.

As the repeated scenarios develop, the drama becomes surreal and disconcerting, combining Ionesco with Pinter. In one version, gunmen notionally burst onto the set and mow the cast down. In another, a giant, unseen bird interrupts the action leaving the cast gazing speechlessly up at the circle.

The play is very technically demanding, requiring the dialogue to be performed at double speed, or lines to be edited down to only their final word, and accompanying gesture. The cast are more than up to the job, exhibiting highly impressive timing and physical skills. Director Lisa Ferlazzo Natoli choreographs the show brilliantly, aided by a cast who accelerate unerringly from zero to sixty in a thrilling hour that is entirely involving, despite its formal experimentation.

Churchill’s play is funny and disconcerting, but underneath it is an exploration of how people really think, rather than how they are conventionally presented on stage. The multiple versions of the text reflect both the writing process, constantly rethinking and redrafting, and the rehearsal process, playing lines in different ways before settling on a final version. In turn, L’Amore del Cuore reflects the overlapping thought processes taking place when any group of people interacts. It represents the impossibility of true communication and understanding, with our true thoughts concealed by rituals and obscured by social expectations. Churchill’s writing is moving as well as clever, sharing strong bonds with Beckett.

lacasadargilla’s production is a fine evening’s theatre – challenging and entertaining, leaving the audience delighted at what they have experienced.