The Heart of the Black Sea - An Oceanfaring Kabaret. Songs and lyrics by Mikel Simic. Orchestration: Ben O'Loghlin. Set design: Peter Mumford. Lighting design: Ivan Smith. Street Theatre, December 20-22, 2001.
Art cabaret in the European style might, at first blush, seem out of place in our bush capital. But in Mikel Simic's creative hands, the Heart of the Black Sea is a surprising, quirky, fascinating blend of Eastern and Western European traditions, drawing on Russian folk tales, Transylvanian pseudo-Gothic mythology and Brechtian social commentary.
Musically, many of the numbers have the contrapuntal and deliberately unfinished lines of the cabaret of Kurt Weill, but the harshness of the German form is rounded out by Magyar rhythms and Slavic harmonies. With trombone (Michael Bailey), trumpet/flugelhorn (Lou Horwood), euphonium (Lucien McGuiness) and Phil Moriarty, as The Great Muldavio on clarinet, we have all the elements of the traditional circus band and sad clown. Then across the stage the violas (Orson and Larissa Sutherland), violin (Anna Thompson) and cello (Kaija Upenieks) form a modern art quartet. And on stage, with the clarinet, Ben O'Loghlin on double bass, Pip Branson on violin and Mikel Simic on piano accordion form a cafe band of magnificent Romany romance, The Black Sea Gentlemen. O'Loghlin's orchestration ties this remarkable diversity into a wonderful unity of sound.
Dramatically, each number is a scene in episodic form, not linked by an obvious plot or the driving socio-logic of a Brecht, but by feeling. Reversals of our expectations are built into the lyrics, a commentary on the way we live our lives, taking us from ironic humour and gruesome imagery into the sadness of trapped love. Especially the final song, "The Carnival Goes On" seemed to offer some hope until we realise that the carnival has indeed gone on - and we are left, bereft, wondering how we are to cope.
This is strong stuff for cabaret - very satisfying original theatre - and matched in performance quality by Simic as Mikelangelo, Anna Simic (Anna Conda, the Snake Woman) and Undine Sellbach (Undine the Mermaid Tealady), in a cleverly designed set and great mood lighting.
Special appreciation must go to Pip Branson for his bravery in filling in so well for his brother David: The Heart of the Black Sea is a fitting memorial. I can only hope its shortened season can be followed by a revival in the fullness of time.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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