The Rotting Hart – King’s Head Theatre, London

Reviewer: Adam Stevenson

Writer: Daniel Orejon

Director: Flavia D’Avila

The Rotting Hart is a queer horror story that tells of a doomed relationship taking place at some point in Spain’s history. It involves forbidden love, sensual Arabic poetry, the memory of some naughty monks and bodily transformation.

Writer and performer, Daniel Orejon plays the unnamed narrator, who paws helplessly at the floor as the audience enters. He’s spent his entire life knowing no one except his father and it’s a profound shock when a young man named Diego comes to live with them. Diego is smart, literate and proud. He scoffs at the demonic tales told about the abandoned monastery and leads the narrator in, where they find a scriptorium full of translated Arabic poetry, which fires the two men’s minds and passions. It also awakens the animals within them and both men find themselves changing into something inhuman.

Queer people have often been attracted to horror from Dracula to Frankenstein. Like the secret in a gothic tale, feelings and inclinations repressed and hidden from society have a way of coming out. With the narrator having never met a person other than his father, his attraction and hunger for Diego bursts out bodily, shaping one as prey and the other as predator but it’s the self-fearing, self-hating nature of the transformation that leads to tragedy.

Orejon has written a story that feels old. Early on, the narrator sets the piece in 1495, but says it could be 1895 or 895 or any other time – an interjection that makes the story feel like it has been told and retold. The elements of bodily transformation bring in pre-Hollywood notions of werewolves and harken back to Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the transformations being both punishment and a way of making the metaphors of change literal. The sections of the piece are separated by trance-like readings of Spanish laws surrounding same-sex relationships from 693 to the present day, which further displaces the story in time.

Orejon’s performance is captivating. In the trance-like moments, he moves with a dreamy grace and in the transformation sections, he visibly contorts his hands into hooves or claws. There’s a vein of humour in the piece, with the narrator cattily disliking the new interloper in his life before becoming possessed by desire and hatred for that desire. He reports the other character’s speech in Spanish, which gives some extra moments of shock to those in the audience who speak it but these sections aren’t confusing to those who can’t.

The script and performance is tight, only let down a little by the slightly fussy use of lights, which change so often that it begins to distract from the action. There’s enough in the words and performance to carry the piece without the need for disco lighting.

Reviewed on 23 April 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Gothic look at the animal within

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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