REVIEW: The Wholehearted (Massive Company)

Review by Tim George

[So Many Soapboxes, So Little Time]

The Wholehearted is a meditation on emotional vulnerability. Devised by its cast (Bree Peters, Milo Cawthorne, Villa Lemanu, Denyce Su’a, Pat Tafa, Kura Forrester and Scotty Cotter), and directed by the team of Sam Scott and Scotty Cotter, the show mixes stories, music and pop culture to examine our hangups about baring our souls to other people.

I have not been to a show in a long time that managed to provoke such a massive shift in my overall impression of the experience. For the first quarter or so, I was adrift in a sea of aimless choreography, portentous musing on emotional honesty and a crap load of boxes being picked up, twirled around and put down. There was a moment where Kura Forrester appears from behind a sheer screen that reminded me of the uber-pretentious play-within-a-play from last year’s The Opening Night Before Christmas.

The set is very simple – three sheer curtains, and a collection of boxes. The boxes have their uses, like being used as chairs or as stands. But they outstay their welcome –  too often, they end up as dance props, being swayed from side to side like fans. After the eighth or ninth variation on this routine, I wished I had my own box to smash over my own head.

But then the dancing and the boxes go away, these inanities fade away, and the cast get to act out short-form stories and sketches of recognisable human behaviour (dating; text message/FB convos with bae; bad breakups etc) that are far more compelling. The show suddenly pulls itself together when it throws away the bells and whistles. When it focuses on channeling its central theme through drama, The Wholehearted rises from a black hole of pretentious nonsense to something funny, profound and relatable human.

The cast are all good, particular standouts being Kura Forrester as a woman struggling to figure out the dating scene, Pat Tafa as her various bad dates, and Villa Lemanu as a young guy trying to connect with the woman he loves via a combination of Facebook Messenger and Dylan Thomas.

Overall, The Wholehearted ends up being the show it wants to be. The first 15-20 minutes are a hard sit, but once the show focuses on telling stories based on its central theme, rather than just telling the audience about the theme, it becomes a really good time.

The Wholehearted plays The Herald Theatre until 12 September as part of Massive Company’s National Tour. Details see Auckland Live
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