Review: Laughter and redemption in road-trip play

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BUILT on the twin premises that you can lose your heart but find it again on a long road journey, Mary Anne Butler’s unique one-woman play, “Highway of Lost Hearts,” proves to be one of the hidden gems in The Street Theatre’s winter season.

Mary Anne Butler, photo credit Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre
Mary Anne Butler, photo credit Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre

Butler, an award-winning writer and actor now based in Darwin, (though raised in Canberra) has the extraordinary advantage of being able to perform her own script, as she does with a rare mixture of directness and radiance.

Explained simply, the narrator/main character sets off in her van from Darwin with only her nameless but loving dog for company. She’s heading for Sydney, where a very good friend has died in an accident.

Though the title of the play, “Highway of Lost Hearts,” is daunting, Butler and her director, Lee Lewis, ensure that only seconds pass before you recognise that redemption is only a matter of time for someone who delights in the companionship of her ageing canine friend with such tenderness that we catch a glimpse of her heart even before she does. Butler is a consummate performer and with the help of the director, she uses the full space of the stage, aided by a few props and some back projections.

As she packs her few possessions into her red suitcase, she tells us of the characters met along the way – a kaleidoscope of Australians – some of them desperate for physical contact, sometimes laconic, sometimes cynical and sometimes compassionate.

Killing the roo, photo by Brett Boardman
Killing the roo, photo by Brett Boardman

Although there’s time for a few laughs and a few beers along the way, as well as a very compromising evening over a bottle of Glenfiddich, there is no getting away from her confrontation with life, seen in a harrowing moment when she attempts to put down a kangaroo she has accidentally injured. Anybody can relate to this, but Butler is not content to leave us with the violence; the corollary to this is the scene where a huge truckie offers to care for the baby Joey she has rescued.

On one occasion she slips into an out of body experience, on another she encounters the ghostly figures of a warring mother and daughter. And behind it all, hover the missing figures of an adored father and an estranged husband.

Bit by bit, as Butler’s character continues her journey, even passing by Woomera, which conjures up more horrors, it is evident that bits of her heart are returning to her chest.

This is a deceptively simple performance but one you simply shouldn’t miss during its short season.

Mary Anne Butler  will present a workshop on writing for the stage at The Street Theatre, tomorrow, Thursday August 28, 10am to 1pm, bookings to 6247 1223 or

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Helen Musa
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