Thursday, August 3, 2017


Dene Kermond 

Devised and Composed by Sally Greenaway

Written by Paul Bissett and Catherine Prosser

Directed by Shelley Higgs

The Street Theatre 26 – 29th July 2017

Performance on 28th July reviewed by Bill Stephens

Devised and composed by Canberra composer, Sally Greenaway, with a script by Canberra writers Paul Bissett and Catherine Prosser, “7 Great Inventions of the Modern Industrial Age” is the result of a Merlyn Meyer Fund Composing Women’s Commission.

Greenaway has been steadily building a reputation for the versatility of her compositions, embracing classical chamber works, choral, big band jazz, film and documentary soundtracks.

Because the commission imposed no restrictions as to subject or style, Greenaway challenged herself to create what she describes as “an infomercial musical”, in which the actor doesn’t really sing. She also took advantage of the opportunity it offered to experiment with different genres and styles. The work received its first performance in Melbourne, where the solo actor was a woman.

For its Canberra season, the work has been re-jigged with the script now performed by actor, Dene Kermond as a kind of Phileas Fogg Victorian- era, explorer character, who arrives by hot-air balloon to expound on the virtues and inspirations of the various inventions. These inventions ranged through telecommunications, aviation, space exploration, massed warfare, the artificial brain and computing and biomechanical and medical marvels.

As in Melbourne, Greenaway’s music was stylishly performed by the Melbourne based Syzygy Ensemble, who played a variety of instruments and also participated as various whimsical characters. They performed in a suitably cluttered museum setting, for which no designer is credited, but which tantalised with its myriad of objects including an early telephone, a gas mask, a 1940’s iron, an Arnott’s biscuit tin and various antique recorders, typewriters, computers and radios.

Greenaway’s music was equally eclectic and playful. A ragtime interpretation of Bach’s “Two and Three Part Inventions” to represent telecommunications, evocations of a European carousel suggested the advent of film, and a haunting cello solo conjured up medical marvels.

The result was a charming, if slightly puzzling musical experience. The cleverly presented, information often tended towards the superfluous, and the transitions between the narration and music were not always successful, sometimes distracting from the witty, attractive and beautifully played music.

Dene Kermond and musician 

Providing the glue between the narration and the music, Kermond’s performance was perhaps a little too broad and energetic for the intimate performance space. The necessity to dash from side to side, dodging instrumentalists and props, sometimes made it hard to concentrate on the information he was imparting.

However, even if not entirely dramatically cohesive, as an ‘infomercial’, or extended advertisement to promote the advertisers product, “The 7 Great Inventions of the Modern Industrial Age” still impressed for the originality of its presentation, and the opportunity it provided to experience the work of one of Australia’s most interesting and enterprising composers.


                                    Images by Novel Photographics

                       This review first published in Australian Arts Review.