Spotlight on The English Heart’s Matthew Campling

From our brief chats you’ve had quite a varied career history, what finally brought you to the world
of theatre and directing?

I grew up in a media family – my mother was a dancer and singer and my father a journalist and radio broadcaster. At University I did an English and Speech and Drama degree and then acted professionally in Johannesburg, South Africa (I’m British, my parents took us to SA when I was 8. Big mistake!) I discovered I preferred my own words to interpreting the words of others, so I started writing plays. I had five produced in SA. When I came to England I needed to make money so I went into the health service. I have a Diploma and BA Hons in Counselling and a Masters in Psychotherapy. I worked as a therapist for 20 years, during which I was also a magazine agony uncle for 10 years, a regular guest expert on ITV’s ‘Trisha’ show, and a regular commentator on radio, in print and on TV on men’s health issues, and my specialist subject, eating disorder recovery.
When I approached my 60th birthday I wanted something more fun and light so I returned to writing plays. The English Heart is my ninth produced play (I have done 3 since returning to the UK) and my 10th, The Secondary Victim, is at the Park Theatre in November 2017.

How much of a response to Brexit is The English Heart or was it an idea you had for a while?
For 17 years I owned a beautiful farmhouse outside Boston, Lincolnshire. I read in an article that Boston was the area in the UK with the highest votes for Brexit. So I started to think about a response which brought the two together. So The English Heart came specifically out of reading that article, although I’ve for some time been wanting to write about an unusual type of relationship between three people.

264000_description_the_english_heart_A5_frontThere seems to be a lot of nudity based on the rehearsal pictures. Is this a feature of your productions or something integral to the play?

He he! Nice question. Actually there’s no more actual nudity in the play than you would find on Brighton beach. I follow the classic guidelines of farces and comedies from the 1960s and 1970s. My cast are all young and lovely and semi-nudity is part of the fun of the play. I often work with actors who have done full-frontal nudity and I say that doesn’t usually happen in my plays. It’s about fun and suggestion – and I’ve seen some plays where there was full-frontal nudity that in my opinion added nothing.

What do you hope audiences will get out of The English Heart?
Politics is uppermost in our minds. I partly wrote The English Heart as my angry response to events of the past year. But I didn’t want to write a sober, serious debate where actors made one telling point and the audience has already thought everything that’s been said. I wanted to depict a group of 3 where they are thoroughly sick of Brexit, and have got to the stage of making outrageous jokes
which still have a serious purpose – expressing how people feel. So I hope audiences will see The English Heart as something of an antidote to toxic politics. Also, the relationship that emerges has a political dimension, as revealed in the last couple of scenes. I go with the idea that primarily people come to the theatre to be entertained. They have hard-working lives, they want fun and jokes and attractive people getting up to all sorts of antics. Well, in The English Heart anyway, my next play is MUCH more serious!

The English Heart is on Etcetera Theatre, Camden from 13 June – 2 July. Tickets can be purchased here

Matthew’s play The Secondary Victim is on at Park Theatre 14 November – 9 December. Tickets are available now


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