Black Rider

This show was to feature Marianne Faithfull in the role of the devil. Having seen the show, I can really imagine her doing it. Although I think she’s a great singer – I have a number of CDs – I think it’s a role she could have pulled off at this point in the life because, aside from walking on stage with a devilish smile, saying a few lines and singing a couple of songs, there’s not much to the role. However due to ill-health, she was unable to attend which, although disappointing was not the end of the world.

In his review in “The Age”, Bruce Hallett provides a neat summary of the plot of this musical. In essence the story tells of the young clerk Wilhelm and his love for Kathchen, the daughter of the old forester Kuno, who demands that she marry a hunter. Wilhelm is anything but a marksman, but he soon gets the mastery and power he needs after making a pact with the devil Pegleg. But one of the “magic bullets” he is given, and later solicits, in the hope of realising his destiny and dream, turns out to be cursed and destroys the very thing he desires.

Although it’s classic stuff, the re-telling was modern in an 80’s kind of way. The music, the costumes, the themes were not quite contemporary, but very much “of their time” when I think the musical was written. I could imagine Deborah Harry or Laurie Anderson or someone like that having a role in this. There were times, though, when it sounded a little dated… such as the satirical line about how marijuana leads to heroin (boringly William S Burroughs in its irony, I thought)… which made me disconnect.

Musically, of course, Marianne Faithfull would have been well suited to the role. The music is “classic Tom Waits” with its range encompassing the soulful and beautiful to the crashing and dischordant. With lyrics by Waits and William S. Burroughs (who also wrote the libretto), there are shades of Brecht and Weill which, again, I really love. Often, though, the music moves at such a pace it was difficult to pick up what was being said. Although I really enjoyed the music, I’d be struggling now to remember any of the tunes.

Visually though, it was terrific, with good lighting and set design. I had to laugh, though, when the characters were brought on stage. There was the devil in white face and black. There were also characters reminiscent of the mentally ill patients of the Australian movie, Cosi. The combination of both made me observe, “Oh look, it’s Clover Moore and Sydney’s Homeless”, a reference to the distinctive and seemingly unchanging appearance of the Lord Mayor of Sydney who was sitting several rows in front of me.

I thought it was quite good, but not great. My opinion however, was far more generous than my work colleague who, on arring back after intermission, declared, “Oh well, here’s another hour of torture we have to sit through”.

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