There are those life changing moments, those “where were you when…” events where the world stops spinning and all the little grievances, concerns, and quibbles of daily life fade into insignificance. One of those moments was February 7th, 2009, when 173 people lost their lives in Australia’s deadliest bushfires and over one million hectares of land was destroyed including delicate ecosystems and habitats.
Fleur Murphy’s play Hearth sets itself around this moment in time, and juxtaposes the devasting tragedy of the unpredictable, unstoppable, and ultimately destructive outside with the equally dramatic, unpredictable and volatile inner workings of a family.
Celebrating his 18th birthday Tom (Kurt Pimblett), is painted as the naïve, irresponsible teenager, coddled by his mother (Carole Patullo) while his brother Matthew (Martin Blum) is the golden boy, almost two decades older and somewhat estranged from his little brother. The family dynamic is strange and strained, as Tom is desperate for his brother’s attention and Matthew has little time or patience for his much younger, wayward brother.
As the heat intensifies outside, the tense family gathering escalates and secrets come to the surface leading to an explosion of emotion. Fortunately, there are moments of comedy supplied by Sonya Suares, Matthew’s British girlfriend who plays into the humour in a bubble of positivity and sweet ditzy-ness.
Written as a one act play, there are moments where the story lags and the monotony of family squabbles is tedious. However, as it’s set against the highly upsetting Black Saturday bushfires, the tension from this contradiction of teenage angst and destructive forces of nature creates a realistic and stressful 85 minutes for the audience.
Including somewhat of a twist ending, Hearth spends a lot of time delving into the personal workings of the family and somewhat misses the mark when commenting on climate change. Geoff Paine and Carole Patullo are highly entertaining and very familiar as the two boys’ parents, and there were many recognisable moments from Patullo in particular in her role of the slowly deteriorating mother, while Paine remained the stoic masculine figure of rural living. The natural ease of which these characters were performed was relatable and grounded. In contrast the younger characters lacked this calmness that comes with age, Suares buzzed around the stage like she was spinning plates in the truthful representation of a girlfriend meeting the family for the first time and Pimblett was the epitome of teenage irresponsibility, simply finding his way through the terror of transitioning from home life to forging his own path into adulthood.
Blum sits in the middle of both worlds, playing the “perfect son”, smart, wealthy, established but with a wild streak that is only revealed later, a temper that makes him all the more human as the façade is dropped and the truth exposed.
While Hearth is set against the Black Saturday bushfires it could be set at any time and anywhere. It is an honest play of human interaction and family life in Australia compounded with the escalating heat of Australia’s deadliest bushfires.
La Mama presents
by Fleur Murphy
Director Tom Royce-Hampton
Venue: La Mama Courthouse | 349 Drummond Street, Carlton VIC
Dates: 18/05/2022 – 29/05/2022