craft / “Place, Knowing and Being – Christopher Robertson”, Bilk, Palmerston Lane, Manuka, until September 2. Reviewed by MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE.
ADVENTURE and discovery drive this theatrical performance, with music composed by Canberra-based Sally Greenaway, and a story played out like an adventure novel by Jules Verne.
“7 Great Inventions of the Modern Industrial Age” was performed by Syzygy Ensemble, in collaboration with Canberra-based writers Paul Bissett and Catherine Prosser, starring actor Dene Kermond as Harry Hawkins, and designers Christiane Nowak and Linda Buck.
It begins with Harry Hawkins, the narrator holding down the rope connected to an imaginary zeppelin, of course, dressed in his finest, what we call today steampunk attire. The stage is set with a museum of instruments, gadgets and electronic wizardry from over the past 100-years.
As the narration unfolds, Harry winds up the pianist pretending to be an unwound mechanical man and the music takes flight into a jumpy show tune telling you about the wonders to come. The other five musicians enter the stage also as wind-up toys. Watching on felt like a peep into an early 20th-century sideshow amazement.
Soon we hear what could be a Cole Porter tune interspersed with recordings of information about the technology Harry talks about, while he converses with his zeppelin pilot, Ziggy, through a Morse Code machine. Greenaway’s delightful tonal compositions were the perfect fit to bring out the adventure of the story.
Throughout the tale we move from invention to invention as Harry wanders around examining the collection of machines and equipment, it even includes some interesting 1970s dance movements along with Harry’s comical story telling. The players did an exceptional job considering the changing lighting conditions, the smoke machine filling the stage with its haze, sirens, voice overs and Harry running around interacting with the audience.
The section where the atomic bomb is represented in our “great inventions”, created a devastating effect through the powerful music and a haunting wordless song, sung by all the musicians. After that darkness, we were hit with some light in the shape of charades. There was some Charlie Chaplin and even a scene from the Wizard of Oz.
Into the later cinema age, it was time for a visual and sound story through a modern sounding and effective movie music score written by Greenaway, as Harry sat and watched an imaginary movie; I’m sure it was a film of wonder.
Towards the end, Harry writes out his experiences with the inventions, of course, on the typewriter, as we hear a driving, pulsing piece of music, which returns to the opening theme on the piano and the show winds down as the other players mechanically march off stage. The composer, designers and players were soon all on stage to take their highly deserved applause for this unique and wondrous show.