___Is Where The Heart Is

Jul 12 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆     Plenty to say

North Edinburgh Arts: Weds 10 July 2019
Review by Dominic Corr

Ideas of identity and displacement lie at the centre of ___ Is Where the Heart Is, Birds of Paradise and Creative Electric’s new co-production which began its Scottish tour with two performances at North Edinburgh Arts.

“Who are you?” It’s an endlessly asked question – even if it’s not one that many wish to answer, or are even able to. Writer and director Heather Marshall’s ___Is Where The Heart acknowledges the question but, refreshingly, doesn’t even try to answer.

Conrad Williamson with Nicholas Alban. Pic Chris Scott

Instead, Marshall encourages questions about our environment’s impact on us, the status we create for others and offers a thin veil of commentary surrounding our current attitudes towards those we find ‘different’.

The production tailors itself to each venue it visits on the tour by including locally sourced stories to draw its audience in. But at every venue there are two young men who have different lifestyles and a common idea – each wants to try the other’s environment.

The first, played by Conrad Williamson, is an indulgent chap who adores the leisurely solitude of the city but begins to feel a disconnection – the great outdoors is calling. The other – Nicholas Alban – looks to escape the stares from small village mentality.

Finding an outlet in one of the recent extinction rebellion rallies, the two realise that neither their own nor the others life defines them.

emotional climax

Alban and Williamson are what makes the production work. The thoughts and outlooks they share are obvious. Separately, each helps keep the loose narrative on track, together they work up to an emotional climax in an intimate, choreographed routine which expresses the hypnotic culture of keyboard warriors, Facebook addicts and the lost physical connection they entail.

Conrad Williamson and Nicholas Alban. Pic Chris Scott

Williamson’s layabout – charismatic but driven to social media induced anxiety – is entirely relatable. Alban’s performance is the more open, it is easy to gauge the problems he faces in a rural community. Williamson’s performance, initially more reserved than Albans’ is the one which evolves further. His honest, gut-wrenching explosions of anxiety, depression and insecurity build over the production.

They are not alone on a stage which includes four screens providing closed captions and, at times, British Sign Language by actor Jamie Rae. However, Rae’s role in the production extends beyond providing accessibility for audience members. On occasion, he partakes in physical movements, reinforcing the visible stresses Alban and Williamson are displaying.

Most impressive is Alban and Williamson’s ability to put something into the characters which draw them away from two-dimensions. When your fundamental theme is a conceptual ‘self’, it’s easy to have capable, but empty performances. Part of the reason why Marshall’s piece communicates well is down to these two emotionally charged performances. We trust their conversations on identity because we see a little of themselves in the roles.

neon-clad topics

There’s an intense cacophony to Marshall’s writing. With so much to convey, her work feels sprawling – spreading itself too thin, covering topics in broad-strokes and hoping to catch as many as possible.

Those bright, neon-clad topics which do stick, cling to us profoundly. For the rest, despite magnificent performances from Alban, Williamson and Rae, while the social commentary on race, depression, sexuality and activism, is interesting, it is so widespread it wanes.

This has plenty to add. For those from small communities, this captures the allure of the city poetically. And for those who are constantly re-inventing our online personas, the appeal of the rural feels sumptuous.

However, while ___Is Where The Heart Is discusses the self, it seems to have trouble with its own identity. Marshall’s script is a cauldron of bright colours and noteworthy discussions but even with credible performances it feels bloated.

Running Time: One hour (no interval).
North Edinburgh Arts, 15a Pennywell Court, EH4 4TZ
Weds 10 July 2019
Two performances: 1pm and 4pm.

On tour:

Craigmonie Centre, Drumnadrochit
Thursday 18 July: 4pm & 7pm

Lochgoilhead Village Hall
Saturday 20 July: 4pm & 7pm

Caithness House, Wick
Tuesday 23 July: 2.30pm & 6pm

Nicholas Alban and Conrad Williamson. Pic Chris Scott


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  1. ____ is where the heart is - Birds of Paradise Theatre Company | Jul 22 2019