It was a disconcerting start to the evening when the actors rambled in with the audience and sat facing us, scripts in hand. Was it going to be a reading rather than the production I expected? Not so. Ross Mueller’s Construction of the Human Heart is an intellectual, devastatingly powerful two hander about grief and loss. Love and pain. Right/write and wrong.
This is a play about writing a play. Two writers, Him (Andrew Hale) and Her (Renée McIntosh) are testing out a new piece (we think by her). Her mother has recently died. So too, has their son Tom, although we never find out how, when or why. There are ghosts in the room. After the first scene, the scripts get thrown down and ‘reality’ interrupts. Suddenly the audience isn’t sure what is real and what is part of the play within the play. It sounds confusing until you realise the distinction is irrelevant as it is all very very real. Or not. Aside from the tragic storyline, it is a remarkable look at storytelling and playwriting. What the audience is given very clearly are the stage directions, some read out by Him and Her. Others come via a voice over (Igor Sas) that tell us the lighting state, the location, the montage of images flashing onto the backdrop. None of this actually happens, but the actors pause, letting the audience create their own visual images.
The set designed by Bryan Woltjen, is small and bare. Empty frames define the stage, which holds only two chairs. The lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw is subtle, more like mood changes than setting distinctions. Both set and lighting are completely appropriate for the desolation of the characters. There are in jokes about writing and playwrights, so it helps if you know the difference between David Hare and David Williamson. These provide the few laughs and wit in this heart wrenching show.
Construction of the Human Heart was originally written for actors Fiona Macleod and Todd MacDonald. Directed by Brett Adam, it garnered five Green Room nominations (among others) and is about to tour the eastern states with the original cast. The script has been recently nominated for a prestigious Australian Writers Guild Award. This is the first time this show has been performed with a new cast, and Hale and McIntosh are outstanding. Her spends a large part of the show close to tears. When she breaks down, the aching sadness that envelopes her radiates through the audience. We watch as the tight control of Him slowly disintegrates, his shaking hands the first indication. I wanted to run up and hug him when he finally broke down, screaming for Her to explain how she copes. The body language was perfect, and fascinating to watch whilst listening to the torrent of words. McIntosh and Hale were a cohesive team, showing genuine empathy and picking up on the subtleties of the other. Marcelle Schmitz excelled in casting and bringing such despair and grief out of the two.
The last ten minutes is an explosive bag of emotions, and I found myself wanting it to be over so I could think about something happy, but also wanting Him and Her to be resolved. This is an unconventional way of telling a story, but Construction of the Human Heart excels in creating a powerful, heartrending story. Excellent cast and excellent creative/technical components ensure this is a gripping and tragic tale, and a definite must see.
The Blue Room, Gossips’ Feast Productions & Australian Opera Studio presents
Construction of the Human Heart
by Ross Mueller
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre | 53 James St, Northbridge
Season: Tues 31 July – Sat 4 August, Mon 6 – Sat 11 August, Mon 13 – Sat 18 August
Time: Mon 6.0pm, Tues - Sat 8pm
Tickets: Full $25; Conc $18; Blue Room Members $18 / $15
Bookings: Ph 9227 7005 or www.pacs.org.au
Special School’s Price: Students $10 for groups of 10+ teachers complimentary
Construction of the Human Heart runs 65 mins (no interval)