Highway of Lost Hearts

By Mary Anne Butler. Lingua Franca and Arts on Tour. Riverside Theatres Parramatta. 14 – 15 June, 2024

Reviewed : 14 June, 2025*

Photo : Hannah Groggan

Mary Anne Butler’s play takes her character Mot on a road trip through Australia to find the heart she seems to have lost after the tragic death of someone she loves. With only her dog for company she drives to distant places, the long kilometres broken by short stops where lonely people reach out hopefully … or threaten menacingly. She finds other lost hearts, and through them and the country itself, eventually finds the missing pieces of her own.

Butler writes with the economy one expects of contemporary women playwrights. She hasn’t time to waste on convolution. She chooses her words carefully making Mot down to earth, honest, sharing her feelings in sharp, short sentences that vividly describe her reactions to the land, the people and the animals that colour her journey.

Photo : Hannah Groggan

Kate Smith brings Mot to life in this production directed by Adam Deusien. Together they find the emotional dimension in Butler’s words. The emptiness of grief and the lingering anger. The loneliness, but the importance of being alone. The healing that comes slowly, in tiny pieces … from a “gnarled hand” reaching out, “a flurry of praying birds” or the comforting closeness of a dog as “storm ricochets” about them.

Smith speaks Butler’s words as they are written. She finds the changes of rhythm that define Mot so clearly. Short bursts of description: the stretching emptiness of a desert road – “I watch his car disappear into his own life”; the sad debris of a wrecked family caravan; the controlling voice of a once husband as she drives through a flooded crossing; the fear as she drives fast through a roadside bushfire. She finds the changes in pace and volume written cleverly into the words and makes them her own.

Musicians Abby Smith and Sophie Jones add the light and shade of song to the production. Hidden behind a filmy scrim that frames the set, or

Photo : Hannah Groggan

sometimes at the edge of Mot’s lonely road, their voices lighten her journey. It’s a nice touch, but not really necessary as Butler’s writing suggests natural places to stop and pause for contemplation, or emotional release, for the character … and the audience.

Highway of Lost Hearts is a piece of writing that makes beautiful theatre. Butler has created a confident character who speaks in a strong, female, Australian voice about issues that are, too often, left unsaid.

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine

*Opening Performance