This is not interactive theatre so much as immersive theatre.
Reviewed at the Odeon Theatre on 5 March 2019
Presented by Teatro Nacional D. Maria II
As we walk into the Odeon Theatre, performer Tiago Rodrigues is already on stage. A simple, white floor, has been dressed with eleven chairs, on one of which sits Rodrigues, reading a book. At his feet are some rustic, wooden, fruit crates, filled with old books. We file in, take our seats, and start to feel our attention drawn to this enigmatic character, lost in a book, oblivious to the rapidly-filling theatre. An organically triggered silence falls over the house, and Rodrigues looks up, seeming somewhat surprised to find us all there. He begins to speak.
Once the ten chairs are occupied by members of the audience, Rodrigues begins to tell a story: a story which involves a Dutch television show, Stalinist Russia, Ray Bradbury, a Portuguese grandmother and William Shakespeare. These seemingly random threads weave in and around each other, gradually creating, by evening’s end, a narrative garment of unspeakable beauty.
Whilst Rodrigues weaves, the ten who sit on stage are taught a poem, which they need to learn “by heart”. As one of the ten, I was able to experience the performance from two angles. Yet the lines between performer, volunteer and audience were of the faintest kind: this is not interactive theatre so much as immersive theatre.
Magda Bizarro’s stunning set is stark and yet warm. It has an impact from the moment you first see it. The white floor draws the audience in closer, almost pulling them into the narrative itself. The seemingly random, yet carefully chosen chairs, each appear to be as-yet-untold stories in themselves. Once they are occupied, the story takes on more layers.
This is about heart. About storytelling. About memory. And about books. It is theatre boiled down to a powerful essence. It is one of the most gently, simply, complex pieces of work you will ever see. And all of it delivered with warmth, exuberance and much humour.
By Heart is exquisite.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Venue: Odeon Theatre, Norwood
Season: 5-10th March
Duration: 75-120 minutes