Producing new theatre can be a tall order in any town, let alone one like Brisbane. We’re only just waking up to the artistic butterfly that’s breaking out of its cocoon, and drawing people out of their homes on a Wednesday night to see a show that they know and love would be difficult enough. It was pleasing then to see a nearly full house of the theatre faithful turn out at Metro Arts for Kleva Hive’s Australian Premiere of House of Mirrors and Hearts.
A show that explores themes of deepest loss, blame, hatred of self and others, family, and hope, as well as touching on addiction and the supernatural is a lot to ask of any single narrative. House of Mirrors and Hearts takes all that and more and packs it into two hours, and almost manages to stick the landing. There are some problems with the book, it has some unbelievable, and definitely unresolved aspects that could be pulled into line, but overall it a wonderful opportunity to showcase some of Brisbane’s most exciting talent.
Without giving away the store, House of Mirrors and Hearts is a story of a family, who have suffered a horrific loss. This permeates through them for years, creating destruction entirely of their own making, that grows stale and dormant. Until a lodger comes to stay and draws out truths that would best stay hidden.
Dr Dan Jess helms this production as both Artistic Director and Musical Director. An ambitious pairing of roles and Jess does well in both, clearly having worked closely with Choreographer Chelsea Chua and Assistant Director Persephone Hitzke-Dean. Overall the show has a dream-like quality to a lot of the movement, people wandering into scenes that rapidly overlap, and the design of Metro House’s Lumen Room means that the cast is all around the audience at all times, often simply watching as moments played out, or staring blindly into the darkness around them.
The music for this show is dense, and in the way of many of its contemporaries, much of it is deliberately discordant. Full of overlapping harmonies that are so close they clash. This complicated work was, for the most part, handled well by the company, although there were times when the clashes were not deliberate, and a little more attention to detail could have been paid by Jess to getting his very capable cast up to scratch on this. Similarly, the blocking of the show, while mostly coherent and smoothed, was occasionally jarring and lumpy. Feeling forced and unnatural. A little more attention to the “why” of each moment, could have smoothed these out.
The standout performance on opening night was given by Fiona Buchanan as Anna. Her willingness and ability to embrace the appalling nature of present-day Anna, and then juxtapose it to the sweet and caring Anna of years passed was staggering. Her horrifying realisation at the end of the play, the grief and shame, was palpable. Like bile rising in the throat. Buchanan vocally dominated the complex score, swinging wildly from a bawdy drunkard, to sweet soprano with evident ease. The audience was unable to look away from the living train-wreck that she had become, and Buchanan played them like a fiddle.
As Laura, Bonnie Fawcett is outstanding. She gives a soft, sad, performance. Quietly tiptoeing through a house where no one wants her, and her memories of childhood are effectively ruined. Her vocals are outstanding, sweet and clear. Her work with her “younger self” Tyallah Bullock is beautiful. A wonderful mirrored duet that raised the possibility that even though years had passed, Laura may still see herself as that little girl trapped in the shed.
Abigail Peace as Lily is explosive, where Fawcett’s Laura is entirely insular. She is a young woman aching for guidance and love and is lost in a blaze of her own pain. Out drinking every night, finding new men to fall into bed with. Her drunken work scene with a lodger is horrifying to witness but brilliantly portrayed. Her pirouettes, a mirror of her younger self’s fascination with dance (portrayed with exuberance and joy by Isabel Davies), are a wonderful lightness in her world.
An unannounced new lodger Nathan (Christopher Batkin) carries the eyes of the audience with him as he moves into the house, and tries to unravel the mystery of the dysfunctional family wrapped in their thick blanket of grief and blame. His awkwardness is charming and endears the audience to him as Anna and Lily openly flirt with him, revelling in his discomfort, and his relationship with Laura grows into a keen friendship. Batkin’s work with Fawcett, Peace, and Buchanan is a testament to his skill.
David (Chris Kellett), a lodger in the house, casually doling out advice to Nathan and seemingly guided the young man with a warm laugh and a charming aside. He is almost too likeable and lingers around the broken house watching the women slowly destroy themselves, and one another. It is a carefully created role, one that holds a lot of the information that he carefully drip-feeds to both Nathan, and the audience.
There is a lot to love about this production, it is executed with heart and shows a clear sign of a cast and crew pulling together to create something special. It lingers in the back of your mind, and like a ghost, watches you from the shadows.