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Review: By Heart at the Odeon Theatre

By Carly Fisher

The stage is set with one black stool, ten wooden chairs, three small wooden boxes filled with books and a white floor. A solo man stands in the middle of the stage in a white t-shirt with a photograph on the front and another on the back. Apart from this there are some water bottles and nothing else…just empty chairs, fruit boxes full of literature and a man.

By Heart offers a personal story from creator and performer, Tiago Rodrigues. He details his obsession with the idea that we are able to ingest literature and as such, literature is something that can never be erased – we are the beholders of many stories and as much as we are consumers initially, we are also part of the legacy of the story…if we choose to be.

10 volunteers from the audience are asked to come and fill the empty stage. Once the first brave audience member rises, nine quickly follow. These ten people will have to learn a passage by heart throughout the duration of the show and only once they know this passage, will the show end. The pressure is on.

Rodrigues starts by offering us a recount of a documentary he watched on this topic and the importance of memory in the continuation of tradition. We understand quickly that he is ‘obsessed’ with George Steiner and follow his journey around the stage as he interacts with the ten and begins to teach them the passage – Shakespeare’s sonnet 30. It is a beautiful sonnet that speaks of the importance of memory so we quickly see its relevance…and how terrified the ten now look.

When Rodrigues writes a letter to George Steiner asking him to help him with a big family dilemma, he writes of a village and of a woman within that very small village across the mountains of Portugal. The imagery contained in that letter transports us an audience and we immediately follow the journey with an invested interest. The woman in this village is in fact Rodrigues’ grandmother. An avid reader her whole life, his grandmother is now losing her eyesight and reading will only make it deteriorate faster. As such, she asks Rodrigues to remove the enormous collection of books she keeps under her bed and help her pick one book only that she would learn by heart so that the story could stay with her long after her eye sight was gone. This is the dilemma that Rodrigues asks George Steiner for help with.

Rodrigues is an exceptionally dynamic performer who has the audience in the palm of his hand throughout. He is funny, he is engaging and he is endearing. If the concept of the show doesn’t make you want to already get a ticket, trust me, buy a ticket to come and watch Rodrigues.

We follow three journeys simultaneously – one of Rodrigues’ own love of books and intense interest in what we commit to memory and how, throughout history, literature has been saved from destruction by the willingness of brave and determined individuals to commit books or poems to memory and then teach them to others. One of Rodrigues’ grandmother and the big choice of what book to select. And finally, one of the 10 individuals on stage learning the text.

I have not seen a performance like this and I urge everyone to go and see this beautiful and completely unique show, and the consummate performer that Rodrigues is. Truly stunning!

Photo Supplied

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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