Saturday, March 9, 2019


By Heart with Tiago Rodrigues. Photo: Magda Bizarro

By Heart.

Written and performed by Tiago Rodigues. Revsed by Joana Frazao. Setts, props and costumes, Magda Bizarro. Producers Mgda Bizarro, Rita Mendes. Co-producers O Espaco do Tempo and Maria Matos Teatro Municipal. Stage Manager Andre Pato. Executive Producer Rita ForjazTeatro Nacional D. Maria ll. Odeon Theatre. Adelaide Festival 2019 March 5 – 10

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

On first impression, By Heart would be more aptly described as a Master Class. Portuguese actor, Tiago Rodrigues invites ten unsuspecting members of the audience to come onto the stage and occupy the ten chairs on either side of his chair in the centre. Once the ten brave volunteers are seated the performance can begin and the audience and the ten strangers sit in expectation.

Before anybody is told the role that they will be expected to play, Rodrigues explains his fascination with literature professor,George Steiner’s television show, Of Beauty and Consolation. He also relates the occasion when Boris Pasternak, against all advice rose to speak at a Writer’s Congress in Moscow. At this event, Pasternak asked the audience to learn a poem which they could then pass onto others, who in turn would pass it on to others and so on.. In the words of George Stiner, philosopher and teacher, “Once 10 people know a poem by heart, there’s nothing the KGB, the CIA or the Gestapo can do about it. It will survive”

From a box of books on the floor, Rodrigues reveals the text that the ten people will learn by heart. He holds it up for all to see. – William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30, poem of love, reminiscence, loss and comfort. It is from this point that Rodrigues gradually reveals throughout the performance the significance of his choice.

Tiago Rodrigues. Photo: Magda Bizarro
Each person on the stage , through repetition, is coaxed to learn the first four lines of the sonnet. Once this is committed to memory each person is then given one of the remaining ten lines of the sonnet o learn by heart. Rodrigues lightens the tone with riddles for the audience to solve before introducing Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which a book can be burnt. He has committed part of the story to memory, where books cannot be burnt and where literature can be stored to pass from generation to generation, free of censorship or destruction. His mission is clear- to ensure that the beauty and the consolation of literature may be preserved for all time.

By Heart has been inspired by the story of resistance leader Nadezhda Mandelstam, who  would invite ten people to her home to teach them the poems of her exiled husband, so that they could be passed on to another group of ten and so on, so that Osip Mandelstam’s poems would live on in the hearts of the Russian people, safe from Stalin’s censorship.

It is here that Rodrigues’s literature class enters the domain of profound and hart warming theatre. He recounts the story of his 94 year old grandmother. Her sight is failing and before she goes blind, she would like to learn a book by heart that she can hold in her memory and share with her family, and especially her grandson who shared the same love of books. It becomes clear that the book he chooses for his grandmother is a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  She commits to memory seven of the 154 Shakespearian sonnets to decorate the heart.

In a final ritual, Rodrigues gives each of the ten people a wafer o digest nd hold to their hearts, infused with love of poetry, family ., Baked in Lisbon, and imprinted with the words of Sonnet 30, the offering is a token of the bond shared by all people and the resistance to all who would seek to destroy the precious gift of literature.

As they file out, moved and uplifted by Rodrigues’s sincere and modest performance, ushers hand out squares of paper inscribed with Sonnet 30. Simple in its conceit, gentle in its message, unpretentious in performance, By Heart  reminds us all of what we hold most important in our lives. It is a valuable lesson to digest.