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Written by Lynda Chanwai-Earle
Directed by David O’Donnell
Nov 7 – 22
Reviewed by Jackson Coe
Heat is an adventurous and ultimately absorbing show, although I must admit that for some time I wondered where it was headed. It seemed to be a rather ordinary entry for the Stab Festival, but the moment Brian Hotter waddled onstage as Bob the penguin the show came together and I found myself excited and engaged by this production.
Written by Lynda Chanwai-Earle and directed by David O’Donnell, Heat is set in a hut on the lonely and isolated wastelands of Antarctica. A husband and wife, John and Stella, are on individual research missions, she investigating penguins and he studying climate change. Their confinement and isolation soon forces them to confront the loss of their young son and the show becomes a wild ride of rage, grief, denial and finally forgiveness.
The play’s actors all excel at what they do. Aaron Cortesi plays the fiery John with gusto, while Kate Prior as Stella gives a persuasive and compelling performance. While both performers are excellent, the real star of the play is Brian Hotter as the nude penguin Bob. Hotter’s performance is simply amazing, and observing him inject a visible psychology into an animal was just superb.
The set, designed by Brian King, seems to be a remarkably lifelike rendition of an Antarctic hut (I say seems because I have never been to one myself). Tucked into a corner and embraced by audience on two sides, it develops a physical intimacy across the course of the show which allows us access to the feelings of cabin fever experienced by the two characters. The exterior set components are more abstract, with a jagged glacier leading to a block of real ice, which works well but isn’t quite as fascinating as inside the cabin.
Some of the lighting is emitted directly from onstage sources such as small lamps and torches, contributing to the naturalism of the show. There are also some more standard pieces of lighting equipment which help create an almost spooky ambience. These are said to be powered by sustainable energy sources such as solar panels, which is an excellent and thought-provoking idea. However, some claims that the power sources may not be as efficient as we are lead to believe may diminish the show’s credibility in this area. (see here to debate the details)
Gareth Farr’s haunting soundscape is another of the show’s strengths. The hollowness of the Antarctic is beautifully invoked through what could be the distant cries of whales or animals. At first his compositions don’t seem to totally match the chipper dispositions of the characters, but by the end of the show they have grown to mirror their bleak emotions which helps us make sense of what they are going through internally.
Heat is a great play which takes some time to warm up, but come the ending it is clear that it is a worthy addition to this year’s Stab lineup.