What the Heart Remembers: The Women and Children of Darfur

Mon 6th – Fri 10th August 2012

reviews

Julia Chapman

at 09:27 on 7th Aug 2012

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What the Heart Remembers is a powerful appeal from the collective voice of the many actors of the production. But they ask of the audience, ‘Who will listen?’ to their stories of heartache, and proceed to tell very little. The audience would have happily listened if there had been stories to hear, but the lack of a narrative element rendered the show unclear and lengthy.

Apart from the occasional piece of narrative, the predominant form of speech was the repetition of certain phrases as a collective, which rather than emphasising ideas about pain and heartache belaboured them. It may sound insensitive, but What the Heart Remembers was too focused on the sorrow and only once mentioned the cultural differences that tore the western Sudanese region apart. Little explanation was given to those who are ignorant of details and the reasons behind the civil war. A greater understanding of the political context was requisite for both comprehension and sympathy for what was onstage.

One rather moving scene was a glimpse into life before the war, with happy, loving couples dancing together and holding each other. The scene did drag on, but it served as one of the only fragments of context. The scene with the greatest emotional effect was the journalist’s interview with a little girl called Theresa, who had lost both her parents and was describing their deaths in a speech peppered with unsettling laughter. The specificity of her story provided the production with a badly-needed human element in contrast with the generic fight scenes that were at times unclear.

The rape scenes were not delicately handled, and nor should they have been. Few details were spared, ensuring that the horror was palpable. The disturbing panting of the men’s heavy breath as they prepared to pounce on passing women was extremely effective. The screams of raped women were piercing and disquieting. This was the only scene where the repetition of phrases was not overdone, where the frantic echoing of ‘We need the water’ emphasised the dilemma women faced in providing hydration for their family despite certain rape on the road to water.

The musical element in What the Heart Remembers appositely tied the piece together, with the sounds of wailing women blending fluidly into the chants of the music. The dancing sometimes came across as unrelated, and seemed to be filling time more often than not. Accompanying narrative would have made these scenes more worthwhile. Some of the dances and fight scenes were clumsily chaotic for the stage, but perhaps more closely mirrored real events in Darfur.

Without a doubt, the performers are talented, and both their acting and dancing should be commended. The style of tableaux with voiceovers that opens the production works well and should be maintained throughout the production to sustain attention and supply more information.

At the end, the actors entreat us with a reminder not to remain silent. ‘You have eyes, you have voices’, they say. But their opening phrase, ‘Let me tell you of my Darfur’ remains unfulfilled, and thus the ensemble provides little for us to pass on to others.

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Bridget Wynne Willson

at 09:44 on 7th Aug 2012

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‘What the Heart Doesn’t See’, a collaboration between Fanni Green and Jeanne Travers and performed by a group from the University of South Florida, is an impressive show combining dance, poetry, rhythm and song.

The ensemble cast moves together fluidly to deliver a portrait of the horrors of life in the Sudan. Subject matter is dark, successfully conveying the gravity of important issues that must be confronted. The players work brilliantly with one another, seamlessly switching between the various daily struggles of the Sudanese.

Considering that the performance is driven by political issues, ‘What the Heart Remembers’ is disappointingly uninformative. We are presented with everyday men and women whose stories, although tragic and harrowing, are sometimes too vague to leave a lasting emotional impact upon viewing. In addition, scenes become repetitive as we are often confronted with the same type of action.

The emphasis placed on women’s experiences (predominantly rape), however, is the most powerful aspect of the production and could be considered sufficiently thought-provoking to inspire further research into the issues presented.

When considering physical theatre such as this, it is important to acknowledge both the limitations and benefits of the genre. To inform and to educate with regards to struggles in Darfur is not the primary aim of ‘What the Heart Remembers’. Rather, a general sense of the problems is conveyed and speaks with a booming artistic voice. Green and Travers may have been wise to offer a supplementary bundle of information for those wishing to find out more and, crucially, to help in some tangible way.

The performance succeeds in basically conveying issues present in Darfur through truly impressive physical theatre - the cast is undoubtedly a talented bunch. There is, however, room for improvement so that they may use their art to its full potential as a political tool.

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