Thursday 6 September 2018

In A Heartbeat - Theatre Review

What: In A Heartbeat
When: 5 - 9 September 2018
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Created and performed by: Laura Aldous, Jaimie Chapman, Rachel Duffy, Ashleigh Gray, Chloe Smith, Emma Telford
Directed by: Penelope Bartlau
Lighting by: Jason Lehane
Sound by: Darius Kedros

Choe Smith
Yes, it's Spring, but the winter chill is still in the air and what better way to spend an hour or so than at a tea party, sharing stories and indulging in home made baked good just like your grandma used to make? This is what you will get when you head down to La Mama Courthouse this week for In A Hearbeat.

Produced by Barking Spider, In A Heartbeat is a verbatim theatre piece reminiscent of the style pursued by Roslyn Oades. In 2017 a group of Monash University students got together with some of the residents of the Corpus Christi Residential Aged Care facility and asked them to share their stories.

The focus of the work is time - the moments in which so much happens and the moments which seem to drag on forever. We here about first love (and having to walk from Northote to Fitzroy for a first date), we hear about being told you only have 3 months to live (they were wrong). We hear about love and about loss.

Most of all we hear about people who have lived a life and are still living it. These are words of wisdom, but not orders to be followed - except to not drink the tea or eat the biscuits until it is the right time... The conversations are intimate and personal and told in a circle of life conceit which brings home to us that eventually it will be us telling these stories, and our stories are all the same and yet a little bit different.

This group of five young women are dressed in the accoutrement of yesteryear with modest sweaters, pearls around their neck, and full skirts incorporating the aesthetics of the half apron. These women have baked the treats themselves from family recipes, the tea is hot, and the tea cups are dainty and delicate.

The tea tables form a circle around the space and the guests sit around the outside and the women are inside. The centre of the room at times becomes a void of unbreachable distance or a dance floor, depending on what storyis being told.

The cast wear ear pieces and have recievers. They are the conduits of the voices in their ears. We hear old and experienced words coming out of young and lively faces and the circle of life appears again as experience is handed down from generation to generation. Using this verbatim technique is perfect for highlighting that idea we are all living life, we are just in different phases. Everyone will pass through each phase in their time. In this construct time is not linear.

As intimate as In A Heartbeat is, and as personal as the stories are, Bartlau has chosen to have all the women tell the stories together in unision to their various tables, and they shift between the tables so you end up with all of them hostessing throughout the performance. This had the effect of depersonalising the cast and whilst the dialectic between the personal and impersonal was a tension which never left the room, it also prevented me from really feeling truly connected to the stories, although the last moment before the cast leave the room towards the end is one of the simplest and most beautiful moments I have ever experienced in theatre. This alienation technique didn't jar so much as it was unexpected and made me really have to think about my relationship to what was happening and what I was experiencing.

The synchronicity between the performers was almost perfect so I didn't miss a word or a moment. This technique made the most sense to me when the cast invited guests to dance with them in a dance hall atmosphere where humanity dissolves into an interweaving mass of indistinguishable bodies.

The attention to detail is exquisite in this production and we, the audience, are invited to talk and share amongst ourselves and with our hostesses at various times. The performers are lively and friendly and when they are the conduits for their elders they embody their characters as well as their vocal idiosyncracies which is delightful. Whilst I never knew who was talking at any moment, I knew if it was a woman or a man and I knew something about their attitude to life in their tone and posture. All of this was real and authentic and at times I almost felt as if it was a relative of my own telling me one of their life stories rather than those of strangers.

In A Heartbeat is about sharing and caring. It is about enjoying the moment and exploring moments which matter. It is a post-truth exploration of lived experience, as well as a lesson on how to live our experiences with the people around us. Tea parties aren't just for 10 year olds!

There is the slightest hint of Wonderland in the directorial choices, but they are gentle and friendly. Music from the early 20th century makes us feel oddly comforted, and everything about this show is aimed squarely at making everyone feel included and welcomed.

In A Heartbeat is a generous and loving performance and it is happening twice an evening all this week so go and get a nice cup of char and a bikkie and remember those good old days the way they were experienced by our seniors - with life and energy and colour.

4 Stars

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