Upon entering the StageSpace of the Pleasance Theatre, Casey Jay Andrews smiles and warmly greets us then proceeds to usher us into small shed, inviting us to take a seat. It is homely and heart-warming, small but full of love; the walls are covered in postcards, trinkets, photographs, treasures from lifetimes gone by. We chat, waiting for the other members of the audience to arrive, she assures us there is no performative aspect of her piece, it is just her. It also becomes quickly evident that this is all a labour of love: she has built and decorated this shed, this homage, this heart, herself.
From the get go this is a production defined by intimacy, there were four of us in the audience but Casey spoke of there being nights during its run at the Edinburgh Fringe where it was performed one-on-one. This arrangement can be feel confrontational; later, as she spoke of the stakes of what it means to love it was impossible to hide the tears coming to my eyes; there really was no hiding at all here, everything as it really is bared but this is all in the spirit of the show.
The piece moves at her pace, everything that happens is at her hand. Intermittently she reaches over to an old CD player to play tapes of recorded interviews and extracts from Gelett Burgess’s Have You an Educated Heart, she listens to the tape alongside us, writes on a chalk board, tells us her own narrative. As Casey first begins to speak one is immediately struck by her electric energy; she is authentic and expressive as she interlaces her commentary with anecdotes and the interview segments. Moreover, there is no other word for her prose but poetic, her storytelling guides us through her heart, sharing its pieces and exposing them to the light.
The piece centres, quite literally, around a small table initially only with four photographs on it. However, a new layer forms with each anecdote. She meticulously lays out more and more photos and we can’t help but lean forward, tilt our heads, shuffle slightly to get a better look of these faces. These are snapshots of loving embraces and laughter, family portraits and mementos of trips to Anfield, Borneo, Vietnam. As Casey leads us through the narrative it becomes clear that breast cancer and its consequences have permeated her life – Casey’s mum, as well as all three of her aunts, have a form of genetic breast cancer and the implications of that on her, and her cousins, lives is an unavoidable weight. Once the show has ended she hands us all a card from Coppafeel that reminds you to “check your boobs” in the efforts of raising awareness.
The production lasts no longer than half an hour and every minute is permeated with tenderness. The Archive of Educated Hearts is a love letter to love itself that is touching and intentional. It forces you to ask yourself about what it means to be human, be vulnerable, live, feel and grieve. This exploration of cancer’s impact on individuals, their loved ones and their relationships is personal, powerful but most of all profound.