Inspired by multi-award winning Melbourne poet Jordie Albiston’s meticulously researched chilling verse biography, The Hanging of Jean Lee plays out in a song cycle concert version with original music, lyrical text and visual projections.
The Hanging of Jean Lee traces the life of the last Australian woman hanged at Pentridge Prison in 1951. Jean Lee, along with lover Robert Clayton and criminal Norman Andrews, was convicted for torturing and murdering 73-year-old bookie, William ‘Pop’ Kent.
Marvellous in its exposition of musical styles, The Hanging of Jean Lee has had a long history, originally being performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2006.
Unfortunately, this concert version at North Melbourne’s Arts House does not do justice to Andre Greenwell’s magnificent score and Albiston’s and Abe Pogos’ hauntingly lyrical text.
The band of seven is a strong point of this presentation. However, the balance between band and singers on occasion relegated the text to a jumbled mess, not helped by an unconvincing performance by Max Sharam as Jean Lee.
Forgetting lyrics on multiple occasions, Sharam looked uncomfortable from the outset, lacking the vocal range and depth of character needed in a flawed performance that resorted to bouts of over-acting and some over-the-top strained singing.
The male cast of Jeff Duff, Simon Maiden and Hugo Race fare much better. Looking like they stepped out of 1950’s Melbourne, they provide a richly timbre performance that is dark and sombre.
The visual projections onto an uneven rear surface needed to be much larger. Whilst providing a historical context, they lack the impact needed and provide nothing more than a mere distraction.
The Hanging of Jean Lee is an intriguingly demanding but fine musical work that needs to be told. While a concert version cannot replicate a controlled environment, a studio recording of this work was made late last year, so one can fully appreciate the haunting nuance of the text set against Greenwell’s magnificent score. Visit: www.andreegreenwell.bandcamp.com to have a listen!
The Hanging of Jean Lee
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Sunday 8 December 2013 – 5.00pm
Bookings: (03) 9322 3713 or online at: www.artshouse.com.au
For more information, visit: www.artshouse.com.au for details.
Image: Max Sharam as Jean Lee – photo by Ponch Hawkes
Review: Rohan Shearn