I'm no expert, but the most poisoned of chalices are, it seems, the cutest. And this production is super cute. A Heart at Sea kicks off with a tragedy which drives its protagonist to cast his beating heart to the waves. Creators/performers Avi Simmons and Peter Morton lead us on a quest, with song, puppetry and props, to find it again. Obviously, they find it. Cute.
What is genuinely lovely here is the creativity of the staging, which feels absolutely like a labour of love. No sound or visual hasn't been raked over for novelty or pathos. A miraculous box of tricks is transformed into a ship, or the "roots" of an island. The audience is cajoled into helping create a storm. A leathery whale might seem a strange prospect, but makes for a neat variety of textures. That variety extends to the sounds, too: the loop machine is oh-so-ubiquitous as a device for creating big soundscapes on a small scale, but Simmons shows there's life in it yet. Overall, there's some very inventive structuring and delineation between scenes.
But the thing is, emotionally, this is all a bit one-tone. "Hold onto your heart, hold on to your head. Sing out the mantras our fathers all said," they sing at the start. And it's on this foundation—the folksy, cutesy valorisation of hand-me-down wisdom—on which the creative structure rests. There's a few moments here where this gets them an emotional rise. But too few to avoid mawkishness.