Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Melbourne Festival's Taylor Mac: A 24-Hour History of Popular Music (Chapter I: 1776-1836) - outrageously bawdy, sensory and highly pertinent

Published in print in Melbourne's Herald Sun, in edited form, 13th October 2017.

Imagine a drag queen born from the cosmos in an explosion of light and glittering colour. Then, imagine this being as an all-knowing disciple of the universe, arriving to bring enlightenment to a world wounded and suffering. Finally, imagine being transfixed by her aura, under her spell and converted by her message of love, inclusiveness and acceptance. This is Taylor Mac, creator, writer, performer, and codirector of A 24-Hour History of Popular Music, here as part of the Melbourne Festival.

Taylor Mac, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: Chapter I
In an epic deconstruction of American history, 1776 to the present, Mac scrutinises a world of oppression and fear that obstructed and injured many as others exerted their superiority. Mac does this through songs of the period and an all-embracing charisma in an outrageously bawdy show that ignites the 'what were' and 'what ifs' in a wild ride.

It's 24 hours in length, spread across four six-hour chapters over four nights. Chapter I: 1776-1836 burst open in a ricochet of rich and raucous entertainment, at the heart of which community building is paramount, boundaries are expanded and normal is an alien concept. Not to worry if you're not familiar with American history, Mac makes it memorable, immediate, sensory and highly pertinent. To begin, a welcome exchange of gifts from local indigenous representative Aunty Di Kerr made certain it would be.

From the American Revolution to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, coursing through the early Woman's Lib and Temperance movements with a heteronormative narrative as colonisation, Mac bites into history and humanity. Song after song - with new arrangements by music director and pianist Matt Ray - is sung with absorbing power, inexhaustible energy and chameleon-voiced subtlety. Ray leads an exceptional band of 24 versatile musicians with one lost every hour.

Taylor Mac, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: Chapter I
An ensemble of "Dandy Minions" weaves about with items including dress-ups to reimagine ourselves, pamphlets, apples, beer, ping pong balls, flowers, grapes and blindfolds that stir participation. At times you might feel lost (blindfolded for an hour, you are) or uncomfortable (that's ok too) and thirsty (there's a bar to head to) but Mac is always there if you need him as he changes from one wild costume to another, crowned with elaborate headdresses of tinsel, cork and feathers by costume designer Machine Dazzle.

From the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible in "Amazing Grace", Mac stamps impact on over 50 songs, some familiar, many not, all with purpose. There's "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and an appearance by cabaret sensation Meow Meow in "10,000 Miles". Further along, there's the clash of puritanism with debauchery in "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes", a rousing "Shenandoah" from a beautifully harmonised chorus on the way to the moving Cherokee songs on the Trail of Tears as the colourful story of Harry, Jane and Louisa Maria is threaded until we reach a soaring rendition of "Banks of the Ohio".

By this point, you're never going to let anything stand in queer's way.

Taylor Mac: A 24-Hour History of Popular Music
Melbourne Festival
Forum Theatre
11th October 2017


Production Photos: Sarah Walker

No comments:

Post a Comment