ILBIJERRI Theatre Company: Heart is a Wasteland review [Melbourne 2022]

Intimately tender and gently compelling, Heart is a Wasteland celebrates the extraordinary in the ordinary, sweeping the audience willingly along on a highly personal musical road trip. 

Firstly, a quick mention of the heartfelt Welcome to Country, delivered on stage by Wurundjeri Elder Perry Wandin. Given that such greetings are usually delivered as impersonal prerecorded sound bites, this live presentation was an authentic and inspiring way to begin this evening of modern storytelling. 

Basically a two hander, Heart is a Wasteland features wonderfully natural performances from Monica Jasmine Karo and Ari Maza Long, with musical director Gary Watling providing additional musical accompaniment from behind a screen upstage. 

The success of the storytelling rests upon the disarming comfort and relaxed ease of Karo and Long. Unwinding after a day of work in the mines, Long’s character encounters Rae Lang (Karo) as she performs another pub gig on her outback tour.

With an ear for utterly natural dialogue, playwright John Harvey tells a stormy, yet highly believable, love story, ever tinged by touching poignancy. In terms of power dynamics, the pair of characters is evenly matched, with each of the two characters having their own idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities.

Director Rachael Maza deftly draws natural performances from her two leads, facilitating a shared physical shorthand that is vital in the brisk development of the tempestuous relationship. 

The pair moves from friendly flirtatious banter to passionate physical relations; before too long sharing weightier secrets and dreams, which inevitably introduce simmering tensions. The ongoing gift of the natural performances is that the conflicts are as convincing as they are affecting. The additional benefit of the concept of the show is that the drama is firmly grounded in distinctly local settings, with First Nations customs and beliefs playing key roles in the narrative. 

Lydia Fairhall’s tight set of songs provides emotional context as well as bringing welcome breaks from the spoken story so as to allow time for reflection and processing of responses. The final song bears the same title as the play, and serves to bring the emotional arc to a satisfying and moving conclusion. 

Costume designer Emily Barrie eschews theatricality for raw reality. Barrie’s set design features charming animated hand-drawn projections by AV designer Sean Bacon. Given the thorough success of the animated backdrops, the flat-screen television on stage is quite pointless. Niklas Pajanti’s lighting design adds moments of atmospheric mystery, with changes in lighting state very effectively punctuating montage sequences.

Given the relatively high number of theatrical productions that originate overseas, Heart is a Wasteland is a local production and story to be cherished. The running may only be a brisk 75 minutes, but Karo and Long’s memorable performances will remain for much longer. 

Heart is a Wasteland plays at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne until 27 August 2022. For tickets, click here.

Photos: Tiffany Garvie

Categories: Reviews

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