We are greeted by a flurry of excitable hosts (Ashleigh Gray, Emma Telford, Jaime Chapman, Rachel Duffy, Laura Aldous and Chloe Smith) who guide us to one of five tables that are adorned with teacups, hot tea and an assortment of homemade biscuits and sweets. The women wear colourful patterned skirts with aprons tied around their waists, bright blouses and various pieces of jewellery, reminiscent of your stereotypical 1950s fashion.
Each host is assigned to a table and in unison they begin to recite anecdotes of older people recalling moments of their lives. This is predominantly around love, life and death, such as one the story of one person’s cancer diagnosis or the death of one woman’s husband at the age of 78. While there’s a sense of fun and vivacity to how these stories are told, the fact that these words are being spoken verbatim from conversations between the performers and people who are suffering from dementia has a sadness and nostalgic mood permeating in the air.
Having the cast perform to a table while still having all the others visible to the audience creates a dual effect of an intimacy with the person who is telling their story to us, and a connection to the audience in the room as we are all hearing the exact same words at the same time. At numerous points throughout In A Heartbeat, these five voices mesh into one large, booming voice with a gentle ferocity that has what you are hearing vibrating throughout your body and mind.
As the show concludes, the cast exit the stage and the lights go down on the five empty chairs left in the middle of the space. We hear audio recordings of older people speaking in their own voice, talking about their own memories as we stare at the shadows of the empty chairs. It’s a poignant representation of how the memories of those with dementia can easily become lost in the darkness.
It’s quite a feat what Barking Spider Visual Theatre can pack into a show that runs for roughly 40 minutes. Through storytelling, tea drinking, biscuit munching and even some dancing, In A Heartbeat is a reminder to hold on to our stories and memories as long as we can, and more importantly, to share them as often as we can with those around us.
Venue: La Mama Theatre, 349 Drummond St, Carlton
Season: until 9 Sep | Sat 7.30pm and 8:45pm, Sun 2.00pm and 3:15pm
Tickets: $30 Full | $20 Conc
Bookings: La Mama Theatre
Image Credit: Theresa Harrison