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Brighton Fringe 2011

Sweet Heart

Helen Nelder

Genre: Mainstream Theatre


Upstairs at the Three and Ten, Brighton


Low Down

Upstairs at The Three and Ten is an intimate and perfect venue for a play such as Helen Nelder’s ‘Sweet Heart’.

Told and presented as an adult fairytale and set simply, it explores a mother and her parent’s nightmares, the fears towards losing their family.

Nelder’s strong writing plants much more than seeds of roses, but gives root to some fantastic and heartfelt acting from this small yet talented cast.


There is no need to flood the stage with actors, nor is it necessary to fill it with props and set, Helen Nelde clearly realises this with ‘Sweet Heart’.

Helen Nelder’s most recent and honest production ‘Sweet Heart’ was modestly staged, and very well conceived, leaving ample space for the stage to be filled with only the simplest of set and the rest filled with the presence of the impressively skilled cast.

Upstairs at Three and Ten there is a fairy –  well she thinks she is a fairy. Meet Dara. Beautifully dressed with a crown of daises and roses, she sits and waits. She is not your everyday fairy. She is a troubled one.

Actress Penny Scott-Andrews has a sadness behind her eyes which demands the audience’s attention. With a soft and subtle approach to acting she seems a perfect choice for the director and the play’s writer, Helen Nelder.

Penny is able to show the soft and vulnerable side of a troubled women who has lost her child.

Yet, she harbours talent and the ability to scorn and spit the most vile of (beautifully written) monologues directed at her ever-enduring friend in Kerry, played by the excellent Dani Carbery.

At the beginning Kerry seems to be representing Dara’s conscience in a surreal fairy tale. She is dressed in a fluorescent pink vest and boots. No, she is not her conscience. She is actually Dara’s friend, equally troubled (by drink) but, also equally strong in Dani Carbery’s portrayal of the character.

Julian McDowell brings a heart warming elegance to the piece. With his soft-spoken tone of voice and perfectly articulated words he brings a calming atmosphere to the stage which is complemented by the gentle wash of warm light – in contrast to the stark lighting when Dara and Kerry are in the hospital.

Julian plays Tony with truth and honesty, bringing order and normality to both Dara (his daughter) and Irene,  his neurotic and compulsive wife – an Irene who is struggling with Dara’s breakdown and precarious mental state.

Julian McDowell and Actress Maggie Clune complement each other well, convincing in their performances as both parents to Dara and husband and wife to each other.

The best scenes between the two actors come from an effortless sense of calm on stage. Erupting into a fantastic explosion of emotion between the two actors. When Clune in her emotional state tells JuliaMcDowell’s’s character he is not Dara’s father, what follows is believable, powerful, and highly emotive.

Without such first-rate acting ability, these scenes could have been lost. This moment between the two actors can be considered as some of the best writing and, along with it, some of the best acting in the festival.

The writing talent of the author is obvious, with the writing of ‘Sweetheart’ being semi auto-biographical a deep honesty is needed from her cast. And they deliver. Both the cast and the writer have achieved a successful telling of a heart-breaking and beautiful story.

I would very much like to see this produced in a slightly larger, more well equipped space,which may allow for smoother transitions between scenes and would not need so many blackouts.

Easy to watch and thoroughly enjoyable, emotional and delicate in its delivery, an outstanding production.