Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Giles Cole: The Heart Of Things

By | Published on Thursday 5 March 2015

Next week sees the timely premiere, at Jermyn Street Theatre, of Close Quarter Productions’ ‘The Heart Of Things’, a play set against the backdrop of Westminster politics, during the aftermath of the last general election.


The production reunites writer Giles Cole and director Knight Mantell, who previously worked together on the highly acclaimed Terence Rattigan bio-piece ‘The Art Of Concealment’, which was also staged at Jermyn Street, back in 2012. To find out more about the play – and just how much politics plays a part – I sent some questions over to the playwright.

CM: Can you begin by telling us a bit about ‘The Heart Of Things’? What’s the central premise?
GC: It’s basically a coming of age play, the difference being that the main character, Peter Calder, a disillusioned English teacher, is coming of age in his mid-40s rather than his late teens or twenties. Over a single weekend in May 2010, which happens to coincide with the aftermath of the last general election, when the political parties were sparring over who would form the coalition with whom, Peter comes home for his sister’s 50th birthday with a new love in his life, which he hopes will set his life in order. Needless to say, the politics of family life is every bit as vindictive, secretive and unsettling as the Westminster variety.

CM: The play tackles both Westminster politics and family politics – how easy was it to marry the two together within the play?
GC: I can’t say that it tackles Westminster politics in any meaningful way, nor is that the intention. Westminster is merely a backdrop (Peter having met his new flame whilst volunteering in the election campaign). The main concern of the play is the many ways in which a family guards its secrets, and its ambitions, and its true feelings, until they are forced into the open. And then of course ‘the genie is out of the bottle’.

CM: How did you come up with the idea? Do you have a keen interest in politics?
GC: The idea arose from a writing exercise on my postgrad MA course in playwriting at City University London a few years ago. It was one scene, with two characters, one of whom does all the talking while the other remains silent. It grew organically from that point, the main character in the resulting play being a version of the character in that scene who remained silent. Politics was incidental. My personal interest in politics is that of a jaded spectator who religiously votes on every occasion without any realistic expectation of any of the many fine words spouted by the politicos ever bringing forth a new dawn. It’s all a matter of being heard to say the right things at the right time and hoping some of it chances along anyway.

CM: Does the show have a political agenda or is it simply a story? Is the staging of it now significant, given that we are in an election year?
GC: As you will have gleaned from the above, there is no political agenda in this play! It is indeed simply a story about a group of people who ought to be close-knit, or want to be close-knit, but are somehow all on their own. Together. And who have not quite managed to get things in proper order despite the passing of years. But it’s not a pessimistic play. There is always hope. And hope resides in the younger, or youngest, member of the family. It’s a play about the inadequacies that many of us share, and the way in which doing the right thing is sometimes not always the best thing. There’s poignancy – and there’s humour!

The staging is significant, in that we are approaching the next general election, so it’s a deliberate placing time-wise, but it could be staged at any time.

CM: As the writer of the play, how involved have you been with the production? Have you stayed with it, or did you hand over the script and step back…?
GC: I would have liked to have spent more time in rehearsal, but in general I believe a writer has to step back and let the other creatives breathe their own life into the play. I’ve made some cuts and script changes in consultation with the actors, but the director is the director. And I trust Knight Mantell implicitly. He knows how to find a dozen subtextual truths in the simplest of lines.

CM: You have worked with him before, haven’t you? Is this a partnership that will continue?
GC: Yes, Knight directed my last play, ‘The Art of Concealment’, about the life of Terence Rattigan, and I was actually in a couple of plays directed by Knight when I was still acting about a hundred years ago. I would like to think we had more collaboration to come, certainly.

CM: What’s next for the show? Are any further runs or tour dates planned?
GC: After the run at Jermyn Street the show goes to Henley-on-Thames, but at the moment there are no further concrete plans. I’d like to think it might find a home in Norfolk where the play is set, but that might be for another day.

CM: What’s next for you? Are you working on any new projects?
GC: Oh yes. There’s always a new project! In this instance it’s a play about the legendary, but now largely forgotten, Ida Rubinstein, who took the world by storm as an innovative dancer/performer in the first half of the 20th century. She came to fame at the same time as Nijinsky and Diaghilev, but got stage fright in her later years and became a recluse. A fascinating woman. A real force of nature. Nothing inadequate about her!

‘The Heart Of Things’ is on at Jermyn Street theatre from 10 March until 4 April. See the venue website here for more info and tickets.

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