REVIEW: Your Heart Looks Like a Vagina (The Basement)

Review by Rachael Longshaw-Park

[No End in Sight]

“It began with a pain in the neck, like I’d slept funny, a joke compared with what’s to come…”

Your Heart Looks Like a Vagina is an autobiographical theatre show and a lyrical journey through Dominic “Tourettes” Hoey’s experience with developing and living with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). AS is a form of arthritis that over time can lead to a fusing of the lower spine and pelvis, but the day to day symptoms cause inflammation of the soft tissue around the spine – and a lot of pain. As there is no cure for AS it is classed as a chronic illness which means that the “person must adjust to the demands of the illness and therapy to treat the condition”, so in other words, your life is changed forever.

Hoey, under the moniker Tourettes, has found success as a rap artist, author and poet over the span of his career so far. With four critically acclaimed studio albums under his belt, two published books of poetry, and his critically acclaimed book Iceland, it’s clear that Hoey is a creative who isn’t afraid to work over different mediums. Your Heart Looks Like Vagina combines his skills in a mix of poetry, comedy and theatre, all in collaboration with theatre maker Nisha Madhan.

This is not a show that follows any traditional theatrical structure. This is less of a dramatization and more of a rambling account, a frustrated tumble of words to vocalise his experience. Hoey’s story is consistently interrupted and aided by lighting designer and operator Ruby Reihana-Wilson. Her actions often frame sections of his performance – when she plunges us into darkness and then brings up the harsh glow of the house lights, the flow of Hoey’s story is broken, forcing him to move forward or change direction. She often aids him too by arranging the space and props to allow for sections to run smoothly and effortlessly into one another. Reihana-Wilson’s presence on stage is a poignant choice considering Reihana-Wilson has spoken openly in the past about her own experiences as an artist working and living with a chronic illness not dissimilar to Hoey’s.

The narrative jumps into Hoey’s life when his symptoms begin to appear and follows his search to find a diagnosis through the haze of prescription opiates and unanswered questions. Once a diagnosis comes the unanswered questions are replaced with new ones. With no cure in sight and nothing but a broken welfare system for assistance, Hoey describes his struggle fighting with bureaucracy and finding the humour in the repletion and pain that overwhelms his days. Yet, despite the subject matter, Hoey finds a way to keep you laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

The marring of Hoey’s poetical style and Director Nisha Madhan’s knowledge and application of experimental theatre is a pleasant blend. Madhan’s direction never drowns out Hoey’s storytelling, but both compliments and disrupts his rhythm as a performer. Hoey’s performance is engaging to watch but he is by no means a trained actor – at times he lacks projection, he drops his lines, and he doesn’t always meet the eyes of his audience. However, the honest vulnerability in Hoey’s performance encourages you to lean in and listen harder. Hoey’s ability to see the irony and humour in his experience makes him likable, and his self-deprecation makes him relatable. It doesn’t make sense that Hoey or Madhan would cultivate a persona to tell Hoey’s story,so it’s clear what you see is what you get with Hoey, he’s tired, he’s in pain, but he’s here, and he’s doing what he loves because “it hurts too much to do anything else.”

The journey for those suffering from chronic illness or pain is one that has no ending in sight, and the narrative of the show once again reflects this. It ends abruptly, without resolution, pulling us out of the story as quickly as we jumped into it fifty minutes earlier, leaving behind a glimpse of the frustrating reality of living with chronic illness in New Zealand.

This production brings to light one of the many voices of the beneficiaries of New Zealand, an under represented and often misrepresented portion of our population. In light of Metiria Turei’s admission to lying to Work and Income in the past, the movement We Are The Beneficaries began in response to the backlash towards Turei, highlighting different experiences and what has become a dehumanising welfare system. This exposure then led to action: within in months the movement sent these stories to the newly formed Labour government and expressed a dire need for change. Without stories like Dominic Hoey’s and others finding their platform, it is unlikely that change will happen within our social welfare systems, so whilst there may not be a cure for AS or other illnesses that can change your life and your ability to work, shows like this are vital to raise awareness and inspire their audiences to investigate and change the systems that should be our safety nets, not contradictory prisons of paperwork.

Your Heart Looks Like a Vagina played at The Basement 10-14th April. It plays BATS in Wellington 17 – 21 April. 

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