What are the connections between a soon-to-be blind grandmother, The Nobel Prize winner Boris Pasternak, some characters from a few chosen books, and ten unsuspecting people striving to learn a poem by heart?
By Heart is a piece about the importance of transmission, of the invisible smuggling of words and ideas that only keeping a text in your memory can provide. It’s about a theatre that recognises itself as that place of transmission of what you can’t measure in meters, euros or bytes. It’s about the safe hiding-place that forbidden texts have always found in our brains and our hearts, as a guarantee of civilization even in the most barbaric and desolate times.
As George Steiner himself would put it in an interview to the TV program Of Beauty and Consolation: “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”. Bottom line, By heart is a training program for the resistance that only comes to an end when the 10 new soldiers know a poem by heart.
On stage, Portuguese playwright and actor Tiago Rodrigues teaches a poem to 10 people. These 10 people never saw the performance, and they have no idea which text they will be learning by heart in front of the audience. While teaching them, Rodrigues unfolds a mix of stories of his soon-to-be-blind grandmother and stories of writers and characters from books that are, somehow, connected both to the old lady and himself. The books are also there, on stage, inside wooden fruit crates. And as each couple of verses is taught to the group of 10 people, improbable connections emerge between Nobel Prize winner Boris Pasternak, a cook from the north of Portugal and a Dutch TV program called Of Beauty and Consolation, and the mystery behind the choice of this poem is slowly solved.