The Rotting Hart

Daniel Orejon
The Crested Fools
The Old Joint Stock Theatre

Daniel Orejon Credit: Molly Wilders

The Rotting Hart is a one-man show written and performed by Daniel Orejon and directed by Flavia D’Avila. The title is a pun on ‘rutting’, which is the deers’ mating season, and hart / heart, a hart being another name for a stag, or male deer.

The show is described in its publicity as ‘a new queer horror’. Horror is a rich seam for queer artists and academics to mine, and in recent years, horror classics such as Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein and Dracula have all been subjected to a queer analysis. Horror stories are based on a fear of the unknown, the Other, something that is a threat to stable society, an attitude with which many LGBTQ+ people will be familiar.

One horror trope is the man-into-animal transformation when the Freudian id, which the man / beast can conceal during the day, breaks free at night. Fans of True Blood, Twilight and Buffy will be familiar with man-into-wolf transformations, but in The Rotting Hart, the transformation is into a deer. This brings it closer to the ancient Greek myth of Actaeon, who was turned into a deer by Artemis and then hunted and killed by his own hounds.

As we enter the theatre, Orejon is already lying on the stage, barefoot and stripped to the waist. He struggles to get to his feet as we cross the stage to reach our seats. When the house lights go down, he stands upright and says, "this is a warning. To you."

He then tells the story of an unnamed country boy who lives in a village with his father. One day Diego, a young man of around his own age comes to stay. They go out hunting, but Diego inexplicably refuses to shoot a deer when they find one. As time passes, Diego’s ears become more pointed and his skin more hairy, which our narrator finds both repellent and attractive. He starts to notice a change in his own body, too. Eventually, the narrator experiences his sexual awakening with Diego, who then returns to his own family, only to be attacked by the villagers. The next night, the narrator hears a deer bellowing. He leaves his bed to find the Diego / deer and embrace his true nature.

The show is simply staged. There is no set, Orejon uses a black-painted IKEA chair as an all-purpose prop and the lighting design is minimal.

Orejon is a Spaniard, now based in Edinburgh. The Rotting Hart is performed mostly in English with some passages in Spanish. At key points in the narrative, the house lights come up so we can read the English translation of various religious or statutory texts which Orejon delivers in Spanish. These range from "The Canons of The Sixteenth Synod of Toledo (693)", which "condemned the sodomites to the scorching fires", to Article 44 of the Civil Code which was modified in 2005 to recognise same-sex marriage.

The use of Spanish with an Anglophone audience has an alienating effect. We are presented with something we don’t understand and which we might possibly feel hostile towards. Analogous, perhaps, to the way in which a heteronormative society historically viewed homosexuality: as something incomprehensible and to which they too felt hostile.

The show was presented on the eve of Birmingham Pride Weekend, and there was a full house at The Old Joint Stock. The Rotting Hart might not have been quite the party starter celebration of LGBTQ+ identity the audience was hoping for, but Orejon is a compelling performer and this is a densely layered and fascinating piece of theatre.

Reviewer: Andrew Cowie

*Some links, including Amazon,,, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?