The Archive of Educated Hearts, VAULT Festival

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by Emma Lamond

The Archive of Educated Hearts shows a steely determination to deliver a hopeful and uplifting whirlwind tour through the lives of four women affected by breast cancer.  Casey Jay Andrews presents this deeply personal, yet painfully universal, experience with the utmost kindness and calm. This provides the audience with a space to celebrate the women who make up the narrative of the piece, and also take time to reflect on their own experiences of cancer.

Andrews’s relaxed and informal conversations with the audience set the tone of the piece – the performer-audience hierarchy is absent, with everyone involved reflecting on the lives of the women. Andrews does not attempt to embody their stories,  instead we hear their voices and see a varied and interesting selection of photos of them and their lives.  This artistic choice feels appropriate and respectful – Andrews acknowledges that she cannot present the stories of these women better than they can themselves, and so they maintain ownership of their narratives.  She uses multimedia in the form of recorded interviews, readings of extracts, projected images and her own reflections, which makes a fully-rounded performance that feels truthful, yet heightened and celebratory.

Andrews is always in control of her audience and keeps them safe throughout.  At the beginning, she acknowledges that the performance is likely to evoke the audience’s own memories of the impacts of cancer, and that they are welcome to leave the space at any time.  This simple yet caring act is appreciated, and contributes to the wider landscape by making performances more accessible. This is important for all theatre, but feels particularly necessary in performances dealing with such sensitive subjects.

The weight comes from the light it shines on the often-overlooked period that occurs after receiving a cancer diagnosis, but before the end of the journey. The ongoing focus on “what next?” and “what now?” cast the women as active players in their illnesses, whose actions have tangible and positive impacts on their situations.  Andrews presentation of their stories in this way provides a hopeful outlook for them – and others, too.

A particular mention is needed for George Jennings.  Jennings’s musical score greatly enhances the interview recordings and guides the audience through a mixture of emotions.  Jennings’s collaboration with Andrews is heartbreakingly beautiful and between them, they created a performance of inspiring storytelling.

The Archive of Educated Hearts runs through 2 February.

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