This sweetest of Fringe treats is, at its core, a straightforward love story: a holiday romance set on a Greek island, which we earnestly hope will survive the return to the rains and stresses of England. It really doesn’t matter that the island is Lesbos, and the adorable couple we’re cheering for are a pair of gay women. But for Janet and Rosie, the path to true love isn’t a smooth one… because it’s taken Janet a lifetime to accept her sexuality, and she has a husband and two teenage kids back home.
We learn that back-story through a very touching, very simple prelude, heart-rendingly delivered by actor Alison Child. Now in her fifties, Janet looks back with wistful longing on her schooldays, remembering that all she wanted was a girlfriend. Not just any girlfriend, mind you; a girlfriend she fancied, a girlfriend with curves.
There’s a liberating carnal frankness to that monologue, and much of the subsequent humour comes from Janet’s shy exploration of her newly-embraced sexuality. These scenes – including a hilariously memorable description of an act of mutual pleasure – are risqué enough to inject a sense of daring, but always tasteful enough to fit the show’s afternoon slot. There’s a nice succession of throw-away lines as well, and some witty visual incongruities, such as the opening image of a self-declared 52-year-old woman shamelessly brandishing a selfie stick.
Punctuating the dialogue is a series of show-tunes, performed with verve by Child’s real-life partner Rosie Wakely. Wakely plays a cabaret performer – also named Rosie – the down-to-earth, more confident woman Janet meets on Lesbos, and with whom she is clearly destined to fall in love. If I’m honest, the first couple of songs feel like something of an intrusion, perhaps because they wait too long to introduce them. But the tunes are worked artfully into the plot, and by the time they crack out the triumphant final number everyone in the room seemed happy to sing along.
It’s not all smiles: there are stumbles along Janet’s journey, including one moment of unintended but devastating cruelty when she learns that Rosie sometimes enjoys dressing as a man. But if there’s a nagging doubt in my mind, it’s that the fictional Janet’s liberation comes rather too easily. She is, after all, leaving her husband and children for someone she met on holiday – a decision that surely ought to cause a measure of introspection and moral doubt – and while the script does briefly address that point, it quickly turns it into a joke.
A brief “road trip” scene set in Texas feels like it’s there solely so that Wakley can dress as a cowgirl… but she turns out to be the cutest cowgirl you can possibly imagine, so I guess I’ll excuse them that point. Overall, Deep In The Heart Of Me is a tightly-plotted piece of theatre, tackling piquant and eye-opening topics within the framework of its tender storyline. Dear reader, my eyes turned misty; and unless you have a crab-apple where your heart should be, I predict you’ll be moved by it too.