Death in Farce and Music: Commercial and Passionate Easter Music

By Wendy Brazil (ArtSound FM)

Though men go mad, they shall be sane.
And death shall have no dominion!

Thus spake Dylan Thomas - a man who was both mad and sane - just like all geniuses. And then there is farce which is as old as time and as old as the first human being who laughed. Farce is both mad and sane, and even though it is corny, hackneyed, trivial, farce will never die.

But Death shall have no dominion!

But when is a farce not a farce - and what is a farce anyway? I googled farce and most of the definitions all describe farce as a light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, adn slapstick elements were used for humorous effect. And all of that was in the play, A COMMERCIAL FARCE, which was showing in the Playhouse, and it was performed by the Malthouse Theatre - with improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters and oodles of slapstick elements. A COMMERCIAL FARCE is written by Peter Houghton and we saw the author in person because he was also one of the two exaggerated characters who performed in this farce. Peter Houghton is Bill, a theatre director who is coming apart as a director of a play which is about to open and as a director of his marriage which is twenty years old. And his antagonist is played by Tim Potter, a nightmare of an actor with a silly voice and a total lack of understanding of farce and the hilarious significance of a banana skin.

At the beginning of this play - A COMMERCIAL FARCE, I was thinking that this is a play about a desperate director desperately determined to drill the incompetent star actor in the finer skills of farce - it might be funny for you, but it is not funny for me (when I trip on a banana skin which I am not supposed to see: "How can I fail to see it if I have tread on it with the right foot"). But I soon discovered that this was not a farce about the intricacies of farce - it is a wrestling match - a verbal and physical wrestling match - between two very detewrmined males racing up and down a semi spiral staircase - in and out of doors - and the rest is - silence - silence from me, because this is a play which demands that the audience be in a state of innocence and discover for themselves where and how this play moves on from being merely and exercise on how to farce and how not to farce and how cleverly these two exaggerated actors can be both cunning and stupid and how one of them can do Shakespeare with invented words to perfection.

A COMMERCIAL FARCE is a brilliantly contrived in its subtle change from farce to something else, but I wanted just one tiny change - Hamlet's last words: the rest is silence is in the script twice, and that is just one too many times - I wanted the last word of this play to be any other word than 'silence' - when Bill the director was speaking his last speech I wanted him to say: "And the rest is [pause] while I am expecting 'silence', but then I hear some other word instead - any word except 'silence', so that I can have the last laugh as the lights go down.

Now A COMMERCIAL FARCE is on tour and if you missed here in Canberra, you may find it somewhere else - and if you do - see it!

And death shall have no dominion

because last Saturday I sat in awe in an awe-inspiring and crowded St Christopher's Cathedral surrounded by candles and stunned by a slow procession of Scuna choristers giving tongue to a hymn by Gorecki - TOTVS TVVS SVM - I am wholly yours. And then with the choir assembled on the steps they became the crowd at the foot of the cross to sing Pergolesi's beautiful lament - stabat Mater dolorosa iuxta crucem lacrimosa - the sorrowful Mother was standing full of tears next to the cross. The crowd of chorisers - SCUNA, the singers of the ANU Choral Society, share their sorrow with Louise Page and Tobias Cole with a truly beautiful rendering of this magnificent conversing by the crowd, the sorrowful Mother and the chief mourner. The SCUNA choir is very different from smaller choirs who aim for purity of tone and clarity of voice; this choir has a different beauty of voice - a more robust sound which has a richness and a warmth and a joyousness in their vocality. I am strongly attached to both styles of choral singing, but on Saturday night I relished this warmer, richer sound, and it matched the glorious singing from the two soloists Louise Page with her own warmth and shining style of voice, and Toby Cole with his beautifully articulated and impassioned counter tenor and when these two sang in duet it was the pure magic which I had anticipated in a previous broadcast.

And death shall have no dominion

because after the weeping at the foot of the cross, there is Vivaldi and his GLORIA and the vibrant SCUNA choir and the dazzling soloists - Louise and Toby - to praise, bless, worship, glorify and give thanks for the great glory of the music makers, Pergolesi, Vivaldi and Gorecki; and a choir, a pair of brilliant singers and Jonathan Powles the director to make it all happen.

And tonight - Saturday night and Sunday night - you can have more than a taste of the other style of singign - the pure tone and the clear vocality - in St Paul's Church Manuka at 6 o'clock when the Oriana Chorale will render the music of Paradise - the music of Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Britten and Whitacre - and their concert is called ONE FOOT IN EDEN.

And Death shall have no dominion; because the madness of Farce will never die, and neither will the sanity of wondrous music and the music makers.