Just returned from seeing The Black Rider at the Barbican here in London (part of the Barbican’s international theatre festival, BITE). It’s a legendary show, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever see … and it was absolutely incredible.
"In 1989 an amazing meeting of artistic minds occurred. Beat-poet legend William Burroughs, enigmatic music icon Tom Waits and ground breaking theatre director Robert Wilson came together to collaborate on The Black Rider … The Black Rider tells an updated version of a 19th century story of a clerk who makes a Faustian contract with the Devil, accepting magic bullets to win the hand of his beloved in a shooting contest. Wilson’s vivid images paid homage to German expressionism, Waits performed a shotgun marriage between Tin Pan Alley and burlesque horror music, while Burroughs’ politically acute librettos gave unique insight into the mind of a character whose actions lead to tragic consequences."
Absolutely superb cast (including Marianne Faithfull as the devil) and the music was both a faithful rendition of and a vigorous reinterpretation of Tom Waits’s original score, played with some verve by a quite brilliant band (‘The Magic Bullets’, featuring Bent Clousen, David Coulter, Terry Edwards, and Kate St. John amongst others).
From what little I know, Robert Wilson’s work can be hit and miss (for me, his exhibition design for the Isamu Noguchi show at the Design Museum a couple of years back was too showy for the subject matter), but his bold gestures were entirely in tune with this tale, which is as old as the hills (derived from ancient Germanic folklore and Faustus, it draws from Der Fresischütz (The Free-Shooter) and Gespensterbuch (The Book Of Ghosts) (1810)), and yet this mittel-European Hansel-and-Gretel weirdness is shot through with burlesque, vaudeville, and stark German expressionism – an entirely surreal confection and enjoyably unsettling. His use of colour, lighting, costume, movement, and space was quite astonishing – as with Terry Johnson’s Hitchcock Blonde last year, I was reminded of what an incredible experience live performance can deliver.
It’s on for a few more days, so go see it if you can.
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