BIG HEART - MELBOURNE
BIG HEART, Theatre Works, St Kilda, 6-24 September 2017. Photography by Pier Carthew
Big Heart is a play that keeps on giving: irony, ideas and awkward truths. It continues to resonate as is so often the case with Patricia Cornelius’s words. Ostensibly it is about family. A well-heeled woman (Andrea Swifte), is herself a single child who wanted for nothing. Her father, whom she thinks she loved although he was mostly absent building a business empire, or asleep in his chair, was a distant figure in her young life.
She studied, she travelled, she eventually took on the family business, she wined and dined in all the best places and did all the right and best things. Having children during those years was not on her agenda. However, she feels she has a lot to offer and believes she would make a good mother. Because she’s rich she can make the plan and the decision to adopt five babies from across the globe – and she does. She gives them a life and love that they would never dreamt of. Whether they like it or not.
Five actors – Daniela Farinacci, Elmira Jurik, Kasia Kaczmarke, Sermsah Bin Saad, and Vuyo Loko – take on the roles of the five “lucky” kids and we see them from toddler, to adolescent, to adult. And they all do this remarkably well – not an easy task. Their skills are deftly showcased by director Susie Dee whose direction is delicious. She moves the actors around the stage with unobtrusive precision. She also deeply understands and manages the text – and it is text-heavy – especially for Swifte who draws you into her life, and makes you question her motives and ideas.
Big Heart is rich in dialogue and opulent in design and direction. The set (Marg Horwell) uses all of the space as a large room with an even larger and imposing family portrait that wouldn’t be out of place in the Old Masters section of a national gallery. There is a large carpeted area with a sumptuous, wing-back armchair placed at its centre. There are five desks on the back wall and stand-alone tables at the extremities. The two exits (vestibules) on either side of the portrait are used to great advantage. The lighting (Rachel Burke) gives the room a rich dark ambience that breathes wealth. The sound design (Darious Kedros) adds another level of rich fullness.
Big Heart poses many questions: who has the right to parent? Who is the best to parent? Is “saving” a child from a poor nation a good or acceptable motive for parenting. How do children from all parts of the world, and different cultures, become siblings, become family? The play shows the “normal” of upbringing and behaviour. The kids do all the crying, whinging, resenting, ungrateful, over-achieving, under-performing, misunderstood things that most have experienced in some way. But perhaps not to the extent of having a mother who is determined to have and be the best and to be fair and to love her children equally – even if it kills her.
The long working partnership of Dee and Cornelius continues to look at the unexamined aspects of life and to unsettle, which I love. Big Heart – an irony in itself – will linger in your thoughts, as it does for me. Recommended.