The Archive of Educated Hearts is an emotionally arresting reflection on the inter-generational reverberations of cancer, and how kindness, for yourself and for others, can be a coping strategy.

Casey Jay Andrews is a theatre designer as well as a writer and a performer, and the design of the theatre space is instrumental in the show delivering as much of an emotional sucker punch as it does. The Manse at Holden Street Theatres has been transformed into a museum of nostalgia. The walls are lined with dusty tchotchkes, boxes of labelled art supplies, and Edwardian-era photographs of long-gone family members. The audience sits facing each other in two groupings of chairs around a coffee table, in a modified miniature version of a theatre-in-the-round. Because we are facing each other, you can see when another audience member, perhaps remembering their own losses, wipes away tears or nods in agreement with Andrews’ reflections on grief. Being able to see other peoples’ emotional reactions at such close quarters certainly exercises your empathy muscle.

The show derives its name from Gelett Burgess’ 1933 book on kindness, Have You and Educated Heart?, and we listen to readings from the book throughout the 40-minute installation performance. We also listen to interviews with women who have breast cancer. Andrews puts photographs of these women on a coffee table which are then projected onto a wall – it is as if we are at a family gathering watching slides. We look away from the photos, rapt, as Andrews performs monologues taken straight from the pages of her own diary. Andrews performs with the directness and intimacy appropriate to the venue.

The Archive of Educated Hearts is a special piece because it isn’t just soul-stirring and cathartic – it’s uplifting, and as comforting as a hug or a hot cup of tea.

★★★★

The Archive of Educated Hearts plays at Holden Street Theatres until March 16. Tickets can be purchased here.