Thursday, 21 September 2017

Black Rider, Sept 20, 2017 ***1/2

Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets
Original music & lyrics by Tom Waits, text by William S. Burroughs
Produced by Malthouse Theatre & Victorian Opera
Melbourne Festival
At Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until Oct 8, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Art online on Thurs Sept 21, 2017, and later in print. This show is an early opener for the 2017 Melbourne Festival. KH
Dimity Shepherd, Kanen Breen_c Pia Johnson
Meow Meow is captivating as the seductive devil, Pegleg, stealing the stage in Tom Waits’ and William S. Burroughs’ eccentric music theatre work, Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets.

American director, Robert Wilson based his 1990 production on the German folktale, The Fatal Marksman, about a young clerk (Kanen Breen) who falls in love with a hunter’s daughter (Dimity Shepherd) whose father (Richard Piper) demands the young man be a crack marksman.

The clerk makes a pact with the devil who guarantees the magic bullets will always hit their target, but it all goes terribly wrong when the final bullet hits his bride.

Waits’ music quirkily merges opera with German cabaret and vaudeville then veers into gospel, jazz and rock influences, all played with zest by the Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra led by Phoebe Briggs.

Burroughs’ poetic text uses rhyme, repetition, vivid imagery and references to heroin addiction to illustrate this insidious bargain with the devil.

Performed on a compelling, abstract design (Zoë Atkinson), Matthew Lutton’s stylised production parodies the grand gestures of operatic melodrama, and his characters move with halting, puppet-like movements that are initially interesting but become awkward, repetitive and distracting.

As Pegleg, Meow Meow is sultry and sexy while also being demented, dangerous and despairing as she prowls the stage, perches atop a soaring white wall, reaches clawing arms through crannies and sings raunchy or vengeful German cabaret songs.

Breen is a fine singer playing the young huntsman, a tough role that challenges his voice and contorts his body when the tormented youth collapses into madness.

Shepherd has a rich, poignant voice and a highlight is her lament, I’ll Shoot the Moon, as the young bride writhes on her chair waiting for her love to return.

Paul Capsis effectively uses his brash style and shrill falsetto, while Piper and Jacqueline Dark play the bride’s parents, and Winston Hillyer and Le Gateau Chocolat fulfil additional roles.

This daring production of Black Rider has some fine performances, eclectic music and compelling imagery although at times its style overwhelms the content.

By Kate Herbert
Black Rider _Ensemble_c Pia Johnson
Kanen Breen, Paul Capsis, Jacqueline Dark, Winston Hillyer, Le Gateau Chocolat, Meow Meow, Richard Piper & Dimity Shepherd
DIRECTOR/ Matthew Lutton
 Zoe Atkinson  
SCENIC ARTIST / Patrick Jones
SOUND DESIGN / Jim Atkins  
SOUNDSCAPE DESIGN / Jethro Woodward  
CHOREOGRAPHER / Stephanie Lake

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