Returning from his latest tour of Afghanistan, a young soldier travels home to the family farm, along the Hume Highway. He is looking forward to catching up to reconnecting with his family, particularly his young brother, and, maybe, his old girl-friend. But his homecoming is not as he was expecting, and the unfolding events which lead to a series of disclosures, provide the basis of this ambitious song cycle.
Performed by Melbourne-based baritone, Michael Lampard, as the soldier, accompanied on piano by Alan Hicks, the cycle consists of 14 songs superbly sung by Lampard as the soldier. Simply saying “accompanied on piano” undersells the contribution of Hicks, who, intriguingly, creates a small orchestra with his instrument, at various times, pulling strings backwards and forwards through the piano strings to produce a cello-like drone, placing paper on the piano strings to create an abrasive, buzzing sound, and even producing rhythmic effects by drumming inside the piano with tiny mallets.
The work is performed on a handsome abstract sculptural setting created by Imogen Keen and artfully lit by Linda Buck. The set provides no obvious references to the places or events being described in the work, but it does engender a feeling of melancholy and mystery, particularly in an extraordinary moment when a river of blood appears to flow across the front of the stage.
Equally, Humberstone’s luminous score scattered with moments of radiant beauty, is unrelentingly sombre, and makes extraordinary demands on the two performers. The singer must negotiate huge interval jumps from falsetto to lower bass, which Lampard accomplishes with panache, while the pianist must also produce the additional effects described above, sometimes to the detriment of the dramatic flow.
How the two performers negotiate these challenges provides an enthralling visual and aural experience. However, director Caroline Stacey has given the work an operatic staging which sets up an expectation of a clear dramatic storyline, and while she has achieved many lovely visual moments, their relation to the soldier’s narrative is rarely obvious.
Despite the descriptions provided in the program, as Featherstone’s lyrics were often incomprehensible, not through any fault of Michael Lampard, who has excellent diction, but because of the particular musical demands of the piece; the lack of any clues as to time, place or location, made it difficult to engage with the soldier or his story. Surtitles, or a copy of the lyrics provided to the audience, may have made this a more satisfying experience.
The Weight of Light
The Street Theatre, 15 Childers Street, Canberra City West
Performance: Saturday 3 March 2018
Season: 3 – 4 March 2018
Goulburn Regional Conservatorium, 160 Bourke Street, Goulburn
Performance: Saturday 10 March 2018 – 7.30pm
Information and Bookings: www.trybooking.com
Image: Michael Lampard as The Soldier – photo by Shelly Higgs
Review: Bill Stephens OAM