30 August 2006

Construction of the Human Heart

Construction of the Human Heart
Malthouse Theatre
Melbourne Writers Festival
August 17 2006
Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse


A white box, two chairs, two actors and a courageous script create some of the most evocative and beautiful images I have seen in a theatre. Construction of the Human Heart proves the exceptional quality and originality that emanates from Melbourne’s independent theatre artists.

Under the direction of Brett Adam, every element of this production reflects an understanding and ownership of the text. The artists used a positive collaborative process to create. The result is moving, intimate, confronting, honest and emotionally engaging.

Playwright Ross Mueller wrote in his programme notes that Construction of the Human Heart is:
“For all of us who want to sit in the dark with other people and experience something that cannot be replicated beyond this night. I wanted to tell a story that could only be told in the theatre.”
This is a production for people who love and understand theatre. It would not work in any other medium. It demonstrates how to use, twist and break every rule about form and structure.

Mueller does write for a very specific demographic. Mid 30s to early 40s / living in inner city Melbourne (preferably north) / over educated / know too much about theatre (please laugh at the “it’s David Hare, not Williamson” joke) / struggling with your own creative career while trying to earn an income / loath the concept of IKEA, but have too many Ikea items in your house / and have experienced the kind of love that leaves you empty and broken at its loss.

Fortunately that is most people I know (except some of us live on the south side of the river). Construction of the Human Heart is written for now and written for us. In doing so, Mueller shows how honest, personal writing can connect with universal themes. Even if you don’t get every cultural reference and joke, the emotion of the work sustains it.

Fiona Macleod (as Her) and Todd MacDonald (as Him) deliver two of the most honest and real performances I have seen on a stage. Neither dominated and both gave more to the other actor than they took for themselves. I wanted to see this production having seen them perform Jane Bodie’s Ride. Playwrights like Mueller and Bodie, please keep writing for these two.

Ron Irwin’s lighting design accentuates the text, empowers the performances and creates mood using nothing but light and dark - no colours, no specials. Construction of the Human Heart is all about the greys between our black and whites. The joy of this production is the integration of every element, so Casey Bennetto’s sound design (and voice over) must also be mentioned.

Thank you to the Malthouse’s Tower Theatre Program and the Melbourne Writers’ Festival for enabling independent work like this to be re-staged and seen by a wider audience. This was originally produced in the INSTORAGE season at The Store Room, so keep an eye the next season. If, like me, you missed the first production of Construction of the Human Heart, do not miss it this time around.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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