We went to our first entertainment at the Malthouse since I don’t know when, on 23 September 2017. I say entertainment but I suppose it was really an opera. A collaboration between Malthouse Theatre and Victorian Opera. Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets . Not your usual opera though; music by Tom Waites and written by William S Burroughs. It’s really a re-telling of Faustus. Our hero is Wilhelm. He’s in love with Kathchen. Her father, the leading hunter in the district, insists she must only marry a first class hunter. Whatever other attributes he has, Wilhelm is not proficient with a gun. So he enters into a deal with the devil, in the guise of Pegleg. She – played by the chanteuse Meow Meow – gives him magic bullets that are guaranteed to hit anything he wants. Except for the final bullet which will go where it will. It’s pretty clear where that will be. In the meantime there is much entertainment to be had.
The cast is terrific. Opera and concert singer Kanen Breen is Wilhelm. Opera Australia’s Jacqueline Dark (last seen by me in Wagner’s Ring Cycle) is Kathchen’s mother. The actor Richard Piper is her father. Kathchen is played by another opera singer, DImity Shepherd. There is a great musical theatre artist, Paul Capsis also in the cast playing one of the supporting roles. They are all fantastic. And there was a great set. Very simple. A white box with characters coming in through all sorts of different openings. Their costumes providing vivid bursts of colour. They move like marionettes; puppets whose strings are being pulled by Pegleg. The accompanying music is also very good; a mix of Brechtian melodies, full scale opera arias and folk songs. There’s a very satisfying mix of humour, drama and pathos.
Over the course of the opera/play poor Wilhelm suffers all sorts of indignities. He becomes addicted to his magic bullets and his increasingly fervid cravings is confronting. Especially when he is completely enthralled. Gripping. Kathchen, of course, is an innocent abroad and has some lovely moments singing of her love for Wilhelm. Both of the parents are great. And Paul Capsis, providing musical interludes to demonstrate different bits of the plot, is rivetting whenever he’s on stage. Here he is illustrating a folk tale that is being told as a warning to Wilhelm.
Through it all Meow Meow struts and pounces, looking very feline. She is fantastic. A wonderful voice and great presence on the stage. Dominating all within the white box. We enjoyed it all immensely. Here is a picture of the whole cast.
Here is a very comprehensive review, including more pictures.
And here is another review.