Duration: 85 minutes
Description: It’s 7 February 2009 – forever known in Australia’s history as ‘Black Saturday’– and John and Barb Robinson prepare to celebrate the 18th birthday of their youngest son, Tom, at their country Victorian home. With the arrival of their eldest son, Matthew, along with his girlfriend, Abbey, the celebrations kick off, but the simmering tension between the two brothers builds along with the temperature outside. Before the ice-cream cake has time to melt, it’s revealed that Tom and his mates have been in trouble with the police for lighting fires. In an outburst of anger and frustration Tom then reveals a deep family secret. But will bringing everything out in the open finally give the Robinsons the peace and acceptance they have constantly struggled for, or will it tear the family further apart and make them question the very structure they’ve tried to uphold?
Written by Fleur Murphy, Hearth is a compelling contemporary Australian drama about family and belonging, forged in the exploration of an environmental threat Australians know all too well. The play was inspired by a number of things: Fleur’s own upbringing in a small country town, the impact of family secrets, and the heartbreaking accounts of those that were involved in the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009. Hearth both leans on and subverts the tropes of naturalistic (or ‘kitchen sink’) Australian family drama by using styles of realism contrasted with lyrical monologues / direct address, symbolism and metaphor.
Under Tom Royce-Hampton’s direction, the audience is carried along by scenes of disparate pace and rhythm, with each dream-like episode building on and supporting the central narrative and the play’s themes. The impending threat of bushfire is an intrinsic element of the reality of the narrative and a metaphor for the death and rebirth of the family unit. Ensuring that its ongoing presence is felt is a directive for the design team. The set, lighting and sound will reflect aspects of realism and symbolism while embracing minimalism. The use of projection and shadows will be used to navigate the audience through the different worlds of dreamscape, memory and reality.
The characters in the play are complex and offer the opportunity for students to delve deeply into the motivation, personality and character traits of a contemporary Australian family unit and contemplate the strength of their loyalty towards each other. Students will also traverse themes as rich and complex as white Australia's settler-colonial relationship to this land, the escalating threat of natural disaster fuelled by the climate crisis, and the consequences of toxic masculinity. Hearth provides an opportunity for students to engage with a work that presents stories and experiences that sit on ‘the fringe’ – both geographically and in regard to our consciousness of the world beyond the metropolitan. From bushfires to floods, the escalating threat of natural disaster fuelled by the climate crisis is undeniable. For some, these experiences exist behind the safety of televisions and smartphones, but the show brings them front and centre – they are tangible, embodied – making Hearth powerfully moving and memorable.
Advice to schools: Recommended for ages 16 and older. Contains some coarse language, references to violence and sexual references. Contains references to bushfires and the theatricalised representation of a bushfire through elements such as sound and lighting – the production is aware that these elements may be triggering, and they will be used sensitively.
Education Consultant: Michele McNamara