REVIEW: Backyard Theatre Presents UNCONDITIONED HEART

Jack and Jill reunited

By Darcy Whitsed

As most theatre-goers in Melbourne know, or should know, the La Mama Theatre is both a hub for creative independent works as well as an extremely intimate space. This was the setting for Backyard Theatre’s new show Unconditioned Heart that opened this week.

The show starred four actors: Vanessa Chapple (Woman), Lily Fish (Jill), Rob Gaetano (Jack), Paul Roberts (Man) and a puppeteer Dan Goronszy, and was focused around the return of Jack to his sister Jill after being overseas for several years.

Unconditioned Heart

Unconditioned Heart utilized a lot of different theatrical elements to tell its story, combining movement, shadow puppetry, scenes of dialogue between Jack and Jill ranging from realistic to non-naturalistic and story-telling monologues from both lead characters. Most of these elements blended very well together, however there were times (such as during the shadow puppet sequence) when there was simply too much happening, especially the abstract movement. On the tiny La Mama stage it became almost distracting, and hard to focus on all of the action. That being said, Lily Fish’s exquisite monologue combined with the exceptional shadow puppetry (the stage was cleverly hidden in the solitary set element of a cupboard) provided the audience with a gorgeous moment that in my opinion stole the show.

Lily Fish was definitely the stand-out performance. Her character Jill had such a sense of sadness, desperation and vulnerability in her interactions with the other characters, none of which was explicitly explored in the story but it was incredible to see the nuances of emotions and thought that had gone into her performance. The other ensemble members were also very strong with a lot being demanded of them in terms of the different performance elements that were used to convey the story, such as movement and non-verbal communication.

The technical elements of Unconditioned Heart were very well considered for the venue and style of the production. La Mama is very small so everything is extremely visible and raw to the audience members and this fact was definitely not ignored in the design of the show. The lighting and sound effects were simple but well-used and the scenes flowed together efficiently and were marked effectively with lighting changes.

The costuming was also simple, representing the different characters’ personalities, but seemed a little too random and it would have been satisfying to see a more unified decision or element within the ensemble.

Overall, Unconditioned Heart is a short, sharp, thought-provoking piece of theatre. It ambitiously combines a wide range of performance elements that for the most part work well, but at times seem to not synchronize perfectly. It is carried by strong actors and gorgeous shadow puppetry.

Where: La Mama Theatre, Carlton

When: May 22nd – June 2nd 2013

Time: Wed – Fri 6.30pm, Sat – Sun 8.30pm

Tickets: Full $25, Conc $15

Bookings: (03) 9347 6142 or online

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