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Big Heart - Theatreworks

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by Elizabeth Quinn (subscribe)
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Big Heart tackles family, multiculturalism and so much more

The idea of the family unit has long been the basis for great theatre as our definition of what a family is grows more expansive, so too has our exploration of what that means on stage. There are the families we are born with, and the families we find ourselves throughout our lives. And then, there is the family at the centre of Big Heart, headed by a single matriarch who has adopted five children from five different continents. Writer Patricia Cornelius' work has always concerned itself with scratching off the shiny veneer of Australian society, and in Big Heart she delves into ideas of family and multiculturalism in a typically uncompromising way.

Director Susie Dee has created a slick production that allows the story of this family to play out seamlessly over twenty-odd years. We first meet the Mother, played by Andrea Swifte, as an older woman, an only child who was raised to take over the family business and afforded every luxury in life luxuries she wants to pass on to the children she seeks out from every corner of the globe. The ensemble cast does a wonderful job of portraying her kids from their infancy to adulthood, developing authentic relationships and highlighting the ways in which the family dynamic changes as they grow older.

We see as the children grow up that there are threads stretching them out and away from each other, some desperate for a sense of connection to their birth families, others rejecting them completely. The play also takes an honest look at multiculturalism within this family, from microaggressions regarding skin-lightening medication to unwieldy questions about how to raise children whose heritage is entirely different to yours. At the centre of all this is the mother, and the accusation from her son Charles, played by Sermsah Bin Saad Suri, that she "stole something that didn't belong to her".

Marg Horwell's set and costume design is simple, complemented by Rachel Burke's subtle lighting design, which shines during moments like the one in which the family watches the sun rise in central Australia. Darius Kedros' sound design is excellent, keeping up with the brisk pace of the play and allowing it to traverse decades. There are elements of Big Heart that are familiar to any audience member, from competitive siblings, to angsty teenagers and strained adult relationships. But the play also asks us to interrogate what multiculturalism in Australia really means, and how we as a country feel we can take and take from other corners of the globe, without ever really giving anything back.
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When: 6 September - 24 September
Where: Theatreworks, 14 Acland St, St Kilda VIC 3182
Cost: $30 - $38
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