HEART IS A WASTELAND – MELBOURNE
HEART IS A WASTELAND, Brown Cabs Production at Malthouse Theatre, 29 June-16 July 2017. Photography by Deryk McAlpin: above and below Ursula Yovich and Aaron Pedersen
Heart is a Wasteland, written by Torres Strait Islander storyteller John Harvey and directed by his extremely talented sister Margaret Harvey, is about love lost and love gained and a road trip over a few nights travelling through central Australia. Singer and single mother Raye (Ursual Yovich) eking out a living and gigging her way home to Darwin to see her son and, after a chance meeting and some rough and tumble conversation and on the edge sex with mine worker Dan (Aaron Pedersen), they decide to hook up and their journey begins.
Production design (Alison Ross), lighting design (Lisa Mibus), AV design (Desmond Connellan), sound design (Steve Stelios Adam) and brilliant songwriter Lydia Fairhall have combined their talents to create a time and place that both illuminates and solidifies the narrative. The set is open with a big screen to one side of the theatre; to the left of the screen we see Raye waiting backstage for her gig.
The comfort of grass and eucalypts morphs into cityscapes as we fly across Melbourne into the Malthouse precinct, inside the foyer to the theatre where the camera reveals an empty space and an empty auditorium, and a screened acknowledgement of country. As the screen goes to black the lights come up on Raye singing her last song for the night. The opening screen journey from country to city – as cities grow, you get that we have lost sight of what was.
The references throughout the play are about the land and how they as contemporary indigenous people live their lives. There is pain and there is loss and there is hiding – not able to face up to perceived inadequacies in their stories but there is also hope, and some great music.
Yovich shows us why she is a five-time Helpmann nominee. Her voice is rich, her acting clear, comfortable, humorous and tugs at your heart; she is a consummate performer. Pedersen is suitably shy and languid, his character tempted and edgy, a man with a past. They work well together.
Musician Anne Liebzeit, who is on stage throughout, plays the incidental music as the audience enters and also accompanies Yovich. Her musical direction and design is integral to the piece and enhances it.
Raye and Dan have had their share of bad times, they talk of the down side of their lives, the effects of grog and petrol sniffing on their mob. The after effects of Maralinga: the scorched land, the ramifications of the fall out. There is a dysfunctional upbringing and for Raye, a child, now living with her mother. Is she bad mother? How can she atone. Dan also feels guilt, his torment running his life. Harvey likens it to “spiritual beings on a physical journey”.
Margaret Harvey innately understands the importance of the through line in the play – displacement, dispossession, living away from homelands – and steers and instills this in her actors as they grapple with the hearts and minds of their characters.
Heart is a Wasteland is an important piece of theatre and a new work; and as such, there are a couple of gripes that I’m sure will work out during the run – not enough to spoil what is a great night in the theatre.