Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Fiery Maze, Aug 23, 2016 **1/2

Music by Tim Finn, lyrics by Dorothy Porter, Malthouse Theatre 
Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, until Sept 4, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 23, 2016
Stars: **1/2
 Review also published online in Herald Sun Arts on Wed Aug 24, 2016, and later in print. KH
Tim Finn, Abi Tucker, Brett Adams, pic Pia Johnson
In 1994, one of our rock music stalwarts, Tim Finn, met one of Australia’s most successful poets, Dorothy Porter, and their collaboration spawned the music and lyrics for a series of impassioned songs.

Porter died in 2008 but Finn persevered, developing 16 songs into The Fiery Maze, a stage show with Abi Tucker, the singer who first interpreted the songs in 1995, and guitarist, Brett Adams.

With the songs structured into a loose narrative, Porter’s lyrics conjure a story of the emergence of love, its poignant struggles, blazing passions and bitter recriminations.

Finn’s eclectic musical styles range from 90s ballads and dreamy love songs, to emotional blues and blistering rock tunes reminiscent of Porter’s rock hero, Janis Joplin.

The Fiery Maze is not a piece of theatre, nor is it a rock musical or even a cabaret show; it is a pub gig with a powerful singer backed by two capable musicians, and this is the essential problem with the production.

This rock gig is crying out for an intimate, dimly lit bar with sticky carpet and beer-tainted air but, in its present incarnation, 50 minutes is too long in a darkened theatre even when the three artists are working this hard to entertain.

The restrictive, cage-like, circular stage (designed by Nick Schlieper), static and awkward direction (Anne-Louise Sarks), restrained lighting, limited communication between the performers, an unclear narrative and total lack of theatricality leave the audience without a point of focus.

Individual songs tease the audience such as in Porter’s wry lyrics, “I want to drink like Janis”, and a tune that celebrates Ballarat as a sultry love-nest, a first for that unglamorous town.

Making You Happy resonates with the pulsating bass rhythms that epitomise Finn’s early musical style in Split Enz while Black Water is a grim, down-and-dirty, bluesy number.

Tucker’s voice is bold with the rusted tones of a seasoned rock singer and she makes the most of her louche physicality, interspersing an uber-relaxed style with rabid passion or hints of decadence.

The Fiery Maze needs to decide what type of beast it wants to be and what type of venue and audience it needs to make it come to life.

By Kate Herbert

Light Years Away
Like Janis
The World
Gutsy Girl
New Friends
My Magic Friend
Talking in my Sleep
Feeding The Gods
This Moment
Bride Doll
Off The Planet
Making You Happy
Black Water
Like An Etruscan

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