Edinburgh International Festival Scotsman review (theatre): Delusion Of The Fury at the King’s Theatre. Reviewed by Joyce McMillan
The stage has an extraordinary look, part set-up for a reunion of some ageing rock super-group, part installation sculpture, part archetypal mountain landscape, in Arizona or New Mexico; a river runs through it, rippling down to a pool centre stage, which is not something that can be said of many shows.
Yet Klaus Grunberg’s design provides a perfect setting for Heiner Goebbels’s remarkable staging, with the great Ensemble musikFabrik of Cologne, of this ground-breaking piece of music theatre created in the mid-1960’s by Harry Partch, the mighty if unsung musical pioneer who, after an early career as a hobo living rough across the southern United States, set out on a one-man project to reinvent every aspect of western music, drawing on global and historical sources to create a completely new tonal system, and inventing and building a dazzling range of new instruments, lovingly recreated here. There are huge systems of glass bells, bellows and melodeons, unique forms of percussion and keyboard; yet as Goebbels’s 22-strong band come on stage and begin to play – dressed at first like hobos and construction workers, later in a range of fantastical improvised hats and costumes – it’s clear that Delusion Of The Fury is much more than an animated display of the tools for a new music.
So in an oratorio-like structure, Partch’s work evolves over two acts, the first inspired by a Japanese legend of a son in search of his lost warrior father, the second by an African folk-tale about a dispute between a tramp and an old woman over a lost goat; and although the effect is often startling and sometimes absurd – the company wander the stage like kids who have been at the dressing-up box, creating myth and legend from the scraps of civilisation – the driving rhythm and invention of the music never pauses or fails, leading us forward through a sequence of thirteen scenes, opening with an Exordium, and divided half-way by a Sanctus.
It’s characteristic of Goebbels’s work that if the meaning is often inscrutable, the event is perfectly-shaped, full of wit and purpose, and completely enthralling. And what emerges is wild, beautiful, baffling, and musically unforgettable; like a 75 minute reflection on all the hopes, dreams, grandeurs and absurdities of human history, told round a flickering campfire by a bunch of hobos – or maybe by a group of middle-aged rock musicians, coming together for one last supremely eclectic jam, before the end of time.
Originally published in The Scotsman
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