Animalistic folk charm finds itself wrapped in ritualistic, unyielding body horror, then dipped in a gloriously lucid socio-political queer allegory. With such a diverse set of themes, you might wonder how The Rotting Hart manages it all together, and it lies in a powerful and commanding central performance from Daniel Orejon as the heart-breaking, wilful, and damaged character of ‘HIM’. In a nurturing fashion, Orejon draws his audience into a grisly fable while seamlessly unpacking prejudices and depictions of Queer people as monstrosities, all in a profoundly accessible way. With verve and style he forges a passionate folk narrative that entwines the political persecution of Queer people in Spain with a cautionary tale about dominance and self-destruction.
We are introduced to HIM through three ends – his relationship to his lifelong home in the countryside of Toledo in Spain, the dominant influence of his Father in keeping him secluded and isolated from the World, and the arrival of a mysterious young Stranger named Diego that results in HIM’s first touch with another human being. It isn’t long before human nature is imbued with a powerful sense of mysticism, as it becomes clear an animalistic interior is breaking through HIM’s thin veneer of humanity, and we begin a challenging and introspective exploration of how we depict ourselves both within and outside the Queer ‘Other’. Intertwined with this are written sections of Spanish legislation, ancient texts, and poetry about the criminalisation of homosexuality. This outlook allows the piece to balance itself in its heartfelt relationship to the source material while still coming across as intelligent, symbolic, and bravely intrepid.
Diego and HIM explore an abandoned monastery adjacent to HIM’s family home, uncovering curses and hexes that have long held a profound imagination in HIM’s mind about consequence, fate, and damnation. Orejon embodies all of the characters through the lens of HIM, shifting physicality between the poised humanity and bestial supernature of the characters. HIM’s humanity unravels as the corporeal sensuality of feeling another body for the first time in his own grip. The physical performance creates a clear and beautifully constructed arc that begins to explain what first appear as HIM’s unusual quirks as his slowly revealing true nature. Orejon dips, dives, rolls and growls across the stage and into the audience to their sensory engagement, before unpacking the written texts with refined equilibrium in the intervening sections. This is a gorgeous performance philosophy.
What Orejon and Director Flavia D’Avila unlock with such clarity is how the image of Queer intimacy is maligned with monstrosity in canonical texts and legislation, and how that impacts then upon the mental state of a young man experiencing a Queer revelation, which is matched in equal parts with Queer unravelling. The texts and Orejon’s presentation of them is wrapped in folk mysticism that intersects with how consensual and interpersonal elements of our identity can be distorted and misrepresented – most of all even in our own minds – when they are corrupted by a widespread perception of perversion. The show does this in a profoundly Spanish exploration of the themes, diving headfirst into the quagmire of laws, culture, and discrimination in that country with headstrong profundity.
The central performance is a mythically-charged with pathos and hunger, yet majestically wrapped in the rich supernatural atmosphere that drips off the story throughout. An unrestrained physical performance matches powerfully rich storytelling perfectly – gorgeously unwinding a magical & dark queer folk fable.
Recommended Drink: The Rotting Hart is best paired with a jug of Sangria – fresh flavour cuts with the biting pungency of red wine in perfect measure.