Thursday, July 27, 2017

7 Great Inventions of the Modern Industrial Age

7 Great Inventions of the Modern Industrial Age.  Music suite composed by Sally Greenaway linked by theatre written by Magenius: Paul Bissett and Catherine Prosser.  At The Street, Canberra, July 26 – 29, 2017.

Director – Shelley Higgs; Design – Christiane Nowak; Lighting Design – Linda Buck

Clockwise from top left: 
Sally Greenaway, composer; part of the set design by Christiane Nowak; Dene Kermond, actor; Musician.
This commission was initiated by the Merlyn Myer Fund and co-developed by the Fund and Melbourne Recital Centre.

Actor – Dene Kermond as Harry Hawkins, a 19th Century time-traveller reporting on seven innovations of the 20th Century:

Aviation and Space Frontier
Advent of Convenience
The Mechanical Brain
Massed World Warfare
Biomechanics and Medical Marvels
The Advent of Film

Music performed by Syzygy Ensemble (Melbourne)

Reviewed by Frank McKone

In 60 minutes, Harry Hawkins, having been left on the ground in 1903 by his floating Zeppelin dirigible airship, travels 80 years around the world of the 20th Century.  Dene Kermond communicates with his pilot, named Sigmund (I think, unless that’s a Freudian slip on my part) by a kind of Morse code from Ziggy through to satellite phone when Harry gets that far.

Ziggy seems to be able to watch Harry’s quirky progress, making comments via the unnamed but brilliant percussionist.  In fact Syzygy seems to keep its members difficult to name, but I think I have found the others: Jenny Khafagi – violin; Laila Engle – flute; Robin Henry – clarinet; Leigh Harrold – piano; and (I hope I’m right) guest artist, Campbell Banks  – cello.  They need a special commendation for being forced to act as well as play Greenaway’s illustrative film-score-like music.

Syzygy Ensemble (percussionist missing)
Photo by Sarah Walker

Harry talks directly to us as we travel with him on his journey of discovery, while he also often expresses himself in mime, rather reminiscent of Marcel Marceau (though he wasn’t credited as he might have been as a mid-20th Century discovery).

Dene Kermond as Harry Hawkins winding up robot pianist Leigh Harrold
in 7 Great Inventions of the Modern Industrial AgePhoto: The Street Theatre

The character of Harry, as played by Dene, was often amusing in a mild kind of way, except for a reflective quiet time in recognition of the horrors of the world wars.  In the end, I found the piece – as theatre – whimsical rather than more deeply exploring the nature of, and effects of, these 7 Great Inventions.  Much of the music, I thought, reflected conventional expectations, illustrating features of the ‘inventions’ rather than interpreting history in a new way; while Harry was often surprised and quite fascinated by what he found, in the mode of 19th Century unthinking exploration (and colonisation) when perhaps he could have delved more into the changes in 20th  Century behaviour from his moral point of view.

So, though 7 Great Inventions was quite fun to watch, with some enjoyable audience participation, I feel there’s an opportunity to develop the piece into a more substantial story of the goods and bads of last century, especially considering the high quality of Greenaway’s compositional ability and of the musicians’ performance.