His Ghostly Heart

The Manse Theatre, Holden Street Theatres. 11 Mar 2012

I have never before quite seen a play like Ben Schiffer’s His Ghostly Heart.  This was a unique and fascinating experience.

We lined up outside the Manse Theatre and were escorted into the small and very dimly lit room by a torch-carrying usher.  There was enough light to make out that the room contained a double bed–the stage!–and there were chairs for the audience set against the wall.  In a well rehearsed announcement the usher advised that the room was air conditioned, that the exit sign would eventually become visible as one’s eyes adjusted to the lack of light, and that if for any reason one felt ‘in need of assistance’ then one should call out “STOP” firmly and the lights would come on, the play would stop, and the situation would be assessed.

So, we knew we were in for a something altogether quite different and interesting.

The two cast members came on in darkness, and the play began with them in the final throes of sexual ecstasy.  Their post-coital torpor then comprises an intimate conversation in which they discuss and analyse the state of their relationship, and reveal their innermost secrets, fears, wants and desires.  Their conversation becomes increasingly agitated to the point of becoming bitter and accusing, and there is a surprising twist at the end.  It all felt quite voyeuristic.

Being entirely performed in the dark – and the plot provides a very specific reason for this – makes particular demands of the audience and cast alike. The emphasis is entirely on what is heard; the actual words and how they scan, the inflection and tone used by the actors, the pauses, the breathing, the rustling of the bed sheets, the sound of objects hitting the floor, the vibration of feet of floorboards.  Although a very small amount of light sneaks into the room under a closed door, there are almost no visual cues to speak of, but we secretly keep hoping that our eyes will adjust to the extent that we can really see more of what is going on.  

Cast members Sara Lange and Hjalmar Svenna, under the direction of Martha Lott, establish their characters quickly and their emotions are clearly discernible from their voices.  From an actor’s perspective it must be a considerable challenge to rehearse for and perform in the dark and to not be able to see your audience except briefly at the curtain call.

The text is quite confusing at times, and possibly includes too many ideas and themes than a thirty-minute play can properly deal with.  Although I think I know what the play was about, I can’t be truly sure, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of it as unique piece of theatre.

Kym Clayton

When: 13 to 18 Mar
Where: Holden Street Theatres - The Manse