Boy meets girl at an outback country pub. Raye (Ursula Yovich) is a struggling single mum and country singer with a golden voice. Dan (Aaron Pedersen) is a troubled miner who is instantly smitten. Both are troubled, lonely romantics. Heart is a Wasteland is a love story, and night-time road journey through the breathtakingly beautiful, but troubled outback Australia.
Creative team John and Margaret Harvey combine theatre, music and film in this play, and the blending of forms works beautifully to meld together memory and hopes, the past and the present, the known and the unknown. Their authoritative yet graceful exploration of the unique challenges that still grip Australia’s indigenous people make this simple yet profound story sing with history and urgency.
Yovich and Pedersen are beautifully matched, with an addictive energy between them that crackles, at different times, with strength, desire and vulnerability. Yovich’s hurting but passionate Raye is the most sexually assured character I have seen onstage in a while, which I found just as refreshing as seeing Indigenous actors onstage despite the sea of white which makes up most of our main stage theatre casts. Unapologetically complicated and strong, both Raye and Dan are nuanced and deeply considered characters; Pedersen strikes a delightful and moving balance of Aussie bloke and desperate romantic, a man balance longing to be healed but struggling with his pain.
The play – written by John Harvey, directed by Margaret Harvey – is peppered with songs written – and performed – by Raye in the band rooms of country pubs. They tell her story; the fragmented feelings she can sort of stitch together in song, but which often leave her lonely and coming up short. The beauty and pain expressed in these songs (and Yovich’s gorgeous singing voice) evokes the hope and grief of a whole nation of people who – much like the Raye and Dan – have been told for generations that they don’t matter, but who have refused to be silenced. As the couple make their way from Coober Pedy up to Darwin, they confront their own relationship to the land, which from time to time seems to revolt against them.
Video montages deepen the connection between the personal and the political, including a filmed Acknowledgement of Country which invites deep reflection about the audience’s relationship to the land upon which they watch the performance. The design is sparse and mysterious, and works as a solemn yet lovely holding chamber for the stories and histories inscribed within the story.
Heart is a Wasteland feels at once pleasantly simple and painfully urgent. It is a love story, but there is a complexity to it, and a dreaming self-awareness, brought to us by an accomplished and talented team of artists, which is moving, enlightening and utterly refreshing.