Happy Friday everyone! This week’s archive feature celebrates the genre defying, cabaret-esque spectacle that was Our Carnal Hearts. Supported by a raucous chorus of original music, Rachel Mars and three belting female singers set up home at Theatre Work with a hilarious, dark show about the hidden workings of one of our ugliest emotions, envy!
“This fairy comes round your house.
You, she says, are in luck.
Ask for anything you want. Anything in the world and I’ll give it to you. But whatever you ask for, your neighbour gets the same thing, but double.
Great. You say. Fine.
Cut out one of my eyes.”
Our Carnal Hearts posed a gleeful, thrilling and murky celebration of jealousy, competitive spirits and all the ways we fuck each other over. A conglomeration of performance art, comedy, a singing lesson and a conjuring ritual, Our Carnal Hearts presented a joyous call for everyone we’ve ever wanted to be and everything we’ve ever wanted to own.
Rachel Mars is a UK based performance maker and writer with a background in theatre, live art and comedy. Her work explores the idiosyncratic cultural and political constructs that inform the way we are together, as people, just trying to figure it all out. Within her writing, Mars has a tenacious passion for examining personal histories, inherited behaviours and cultural expectations (often through a queer and/or jewish lens). Influences include – Curious, Ken Dodd, Morecambe and Wise, Lisa Kron, Bobby Baker and Gob Squad.
Our Carnal Hearts was conceived in the wake of the 2011 London Riots, when a response to injustice resulted in widespread looting and crime. Through her website, Mars describes what in particular about those acts of widespread collective violence served as impetus for this production:
“I’ve been obsessed with the state of envy across the personal and the political for the past few years. It remains a shamefully taboo emotion. With Our Carnal Hearts I am riding our current – very perfect –[shit]storm of envy: a culmination of fears of scarcity, isolation born from technology, the move from collectivism to individualism and status anxiety derived from consumerism.”
“In current capitalist societies we are pitted against each other all the time. That’s accepted. What is not acceptable is the feeling of envy. So you must compete, but you mustn’t express the discomfort of comparing yourself to other people. When we throw in social media, we’re in a storm of comparing our insides to other people’s outsides.”
When reflecting about her decision to fuse music, spoken word and innovative stage design, Mars explains that it arose from a desire to create a theatrical experience that simultaneously echoed community acceptance and show-down:
“The singing – and the occasional invitations for the audience to join in – also shape this experience of being together whilst questioning the genuineness of that being together at exactly the same time.”
Prior to arriving at Theatre Works in 2018 as part with the Melbourne Fringe Festival; Our Carnal Hearts had already seen its fair share of life, having been staged over twenty times around the around. It had accumulated a slew of critical recognition behind its name, winning the TOTAL THEATRE AWARD FOR INNOVATION 2017 and listed as one of The Guardian Picks of Edinburgh.
Broadway Baby adored the work delivering a glowing five star review during the works Edinburgh season:
“Deeply engaging… beautifully blends together mundane normality and phantasmal spectacle.”
Other international critics were similarly glowing with The Stage and The Guardian awarding four stars:
Wickedly funny… soothing and sharp-edged at the same time
– The Stage
Not just honest… very funny, too, and streaked with regret
– Lyn Gardner, The Guardian
Not just a hit with the critics, Our Carnal Hearts also struck a chord with its creative peers. Ari Barbanell of the American Repertory Theatre declared the work to be:
“both joyful and delightfully painful. Moved me to celebrate what is terribly human with song and revelry, delivered masterfully.”
Louise Stephens of the Royal Court Theatre in London also praised the production:
“A show of wit and verve that -aptly- hides a dark heart. It made me question my own relationship to envy and how the pace of our online lives is overtaking our emotional capacity to connect with our own interiors, never mind other people.”
Our Carnal Hearts was adapted specifically for its Melbourne season to include local music group The Invenio Singers Ensemble. Invenio is an innovative ensemble of improvising and contemporary singers, experimenting with the typical vocal group/choral form through conceptual composition, extended vocal technique, fluid improvising, choreographed movement and inventive performance.
For more on her work, visit Rachel’s website at the link below. Scroll to the bottom of the page to hear two of the musical tracks (Humblebrag and Congratulations Amen) crafted for this production and recorded during the UK leg of the shows tour.
The full international touring team are listed below:
WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY Rachel Mars
MUSIC COMPOSED AND ARRANGED BY Louise Mothersole
FEATURING The Invenio Singers Ensemble (specific to the Theatre Works season)
DRAMATURGY Wendy Hubbard
ADDITIONAL DRAMATURGY Louise Stephens
CO-DIRECTED BY Rachel Mars and Wendy Hubbard
LIGHTING DESIGN BY Anna Barrett
Our Carnal Hearts was Developed with the support of Arts Council England, South East Dance in partnership with Jerwood Charitable Trust, Orchard Project (NY), CPT, Cambridge Junction, Ovalhouse, American Repertory Theatre, The Royal Court Theatre and Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal.
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