KING UBU – Mona Foma 2020

So a narcicist King who thinks too much of himself invades a country, dividing everyone and turns the world absurd. This story repeats itself almost daily in or never-too-quick-to-learn world. King Ubu is an adaption of Ubu Roi, the original French production by Alfred Jarry. The original production bears the same hallmarks of the premier of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in that there were boos, heckles, people leaving and the (gee I hope they really did do this) throwing of fruit. (Why did people always seem to have fruit on them back then?). It was a brave beginning and the theatre of the absurd was born.

Re staging of Ubu has happened many times in its absurdist vein and the political volatility of its story has never been out of date. And so, under the want of MOFO’s curator Brian Ritchie, we did it again. In this production, the central characters are 9 foot high puppets, the good guy is played by multiple actors, and no one on stage speaks because they are voiced by actors 6 feet above them on scaffold, a cheer squad, dancers, a brass band, ludicrous puppet violence and the audience watched from a swimming pool.

I was approached to write the songs. There are scant details about original score from the late 1800s, so I took cues from the amazing new adaption of the script by writer Willow Weiland. There are 6 songs in all that were often sung by the whole company of 60 people. The music underscore we developed as a band of Taiko Drums, Harp, Saxes, Bass, Banjo, Harpsichord, brass band, choir, kazoo, surf guitar, toy piano and absurd percussion. Members were Brian Ritchie, Spile Mason, Yyan Ng, Emily Sanzaro and myself with help from the Launceston RSL Brass band. We played it 3 nights for free.

In short, it was awesome!

Royal Work. A commission for the Queens 90th Birthday.

Risks are good. They help break conventions and skulls. Professionally, in music, the breaking of conventions is a necessary hazard. It’s how people know you’re there. Otherwise you’re wallpaper.

This year, for Her majesty the Queens 90th birthday celebrations, Government House in Hobart took one such risk. They asked me to produce something for the occasion that would be new yet referential, risky yet respectful. I used the opportunity to engage two people I’d wanted to create with for sometime; Kelly Ottaway and Julius Schwing, and we discussed the concept. Truth be told, I think it was Kelly who first spake the idea of God Save the Queen – Theme and Variations. Well, that is what it was called in the end. Initially, the ideas ‘Meditation upon… or GSTQ Re-arranged… were bandied about, but they presented too much fog around the idea and not enough clarity of meaning for a traditional occasion.

And so…

Kelly, Julius and I began to explore phrases from GSTQ and its closest friend, the Hymn Jerusalem. What became of it was a 45 minute concert composed equally by the three of us for string quartet, brass quartet, piano, guitar, samples and taped excerpts of the coronation.

The risk factor rung on in the minds of the Governor and staff so that right up until my baton went down for the first time, everyone was a little on the edge. What was this going to sound like? How kooky were the variations going to be? Would the Queen be offended? One month earlier, I had been called into the Governor’s office and asked this question directly. They wanted to avoid any unpleasant complications given the gravity of the occasion. I played them a freshly composed example from my laptop of a brass quartet piece with the working title God Save the Brass Quartet, which I had penned not two days earlier (phew!). They liked it, (phew!) and we went on…cautiously.

 

Did it work? Did we vary too much? Was there anything left of the regal theme and its potency? The Governor and staff seemed overjoyed with the result (phew!). So much so the next night a camera crew was employed to film it and send it to Buckingham Palace the following day in time for London’s celebrations for the Queen in the Mall. Did the Queen see it? Not sure. Haven’t heard yet. But, personally, I couldn’t be happier with the process, the outcome and the story to tell.

 

The concert is linked below. Enjoy.

http://www.govhouse.tas.gov.au/vice-regal-news-and-photos/8-june-2016