Along with the razzle-dazzle of international block-busters, the Auckland Arts Festival offers more intimate experiences and in Tiago Rodrigues' By Heart, audiences are invited to savour the exquisite flavours of a delectable treat.
The one-man show draws us into a delightful meditation on the strange alchemy which occurs when poetry is committed to memory. The personal and political are skilfully intertwined with haunting accounts of memory being deployed as a weapon of resistance against Soviet totalitarianism. These are intercut with tender descriptions of beloved grandmother using memory to prolong her enjoyment of literature when her eyesight is failing.
As the stories unfold, we see how the act of learning a poem by heart enriches our interior life by honouring things we consider to be important and restoring intimacy to things we love: "We are what we remember."
Calling to mind the old adage, "don't say it - show it", audience members are invited onstage to undertake the difficult task of memorising a Shakespearean sonnet. As the plucky volunteers wrestle with Shakespeare's dense language, the poem takes on new life and the intricate complexities of the verse are revealed in an intensely personal way that is vastly superior to the most eloquent reading or erudite commentary.
Any fears about the dullness of rote learning are blown away by Rodrigues' robust performance as a ringmaster with a wicked sense of humour and a strong aversion to the vagaries of interactive theatre.
Although there is plenty of spontaneous banter, it never interferes with the rigorous story structure which weaves a delicate web of connections between the different components of the show
Rodrigues utilises a natural story-teller's gift for building suspense by investing small things with voluminous significance and the show's indeterminate length – which allegedly stretched to four hours to accommodate the slow uptake of Australian audiences – raced by in the twinkling of an eye.
What: By Heart
Where & When: Q-Theatre, Loft to March 16
Reviewed by: Paul Simei-Barton