TEN PLAGUES & QUEER CABARET SONGS
Lyrics by Mark Ravenhill, music by Conor Mitchell
12th Nov 17, Lyric Theatre Belfast
Performed by Matthew Cavan, Nigel Richards & Keith Acheson | Director Conor Mitchell & Kate Guelke | Video designer Gavin Peden | Lighting designer Simon Bird
Tracing one man's journey through a city in crisis, Ten Plagues charts the great plague of 1665. Part torch song, part Schubert, this groundbreaking piece of music-theatre was originally written for iconic singer Marc Almond and was presented here for the first time in Northern Ireland as part of OUTBURST FESTIVAL.
Drawing its title from the perspective of the biblical Israelites who survived the plagues wrought upon the Egyptians and projecting that take on survival forward in time to 1665 when the Black Death (The Great Plague) devastated London, it draws parallels with the 20th century emergence of AIDS - The Gay “Plague” as it was homophobically labelled in sections of the media - and the impact of living through the onslaught of that modern disease.
Ten Plagues was followed by a cabaret of Ravenhill/Mitchell's QUEER CABARET SONGS, performed by Nigel Richards (Phantom of the Opera) and directed by Kate Guelke. These songs were commissioned by ALDEBURGH MUSIC as part of the 2013 Britten hundredth birthday celebrations in Snape Maltings, Suffolk - Britten's home.
Review of 'Ten Plagues'
Lean, lanky and wan-faced, Cavan cuts a solitary figure, at once arch and troubled, permanently absorbed into and dehumanised by Gavin Peden’s flickering video backdrop. His close fitting blue lounge suit is accessorised by a scarlet silk tie, a matching gash of lipstick and a pair of sequinned stiletto sling-backs. But beneath the camp glitter he carries on his slim shoulders the guilty burden of survival, as he navigates alone a parched wasteland beset by disease and pestilence. The setting may be 17th century England but this poignant, expressive Everyman conveys mass suffering past and present, allowing just one brief humorous interlude set off by a curly blonde wig.
Through his new company The Belfast Ensemble, Mitchell makes extremely high musical demands of his carefully chosen collaborators. Routinely, they rise to the challenge. Here Cavan responds with thrilling vocals and a compelling characterisation, one moment frail and plaintive, the next brimming with barely contained outrage and anger. This outstanding piece of music theatre demands much wider international attention than a one-night festival gig.
Review of 'Ten Plagues'
As has become their tradition, Belfast Ensemble’s production of Ten Plagueswas a masterclass in restraint and quality. Over recent years, video has threatened to become the curse of theatre. Projections animated a simple screen hung from a the dark arch behind the two performers on the main Lyric Theatre stage. Gavin Peden’s video art enhanced the sense of each scene while never distracting from the art of the song. Lit by three projectors and just three lights, the imagery provided the main illumination and colour, with the carefully choreographed Cavan casting bold shadows onto the screen as if he was in the pictures.
As the cycle continued, Mitchell’s movements at the keyboard added to the drama with his flying hands, arched back and gasps for breath. It all subtly amplified the intensity of the cycle as it headed towards its rather spectacular conclusion.