Memorial is a stunning piece of music, which enters into a dialogue with the performer (Helen Moore) of Alice Oswald’s epic poem. War and poetry may seem strange bedfellows, but war poetry is among the most powerful and cherished of the form (I’m thinking here of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum est, Henry Reed’s Naming of Parts, and even Homer’s The Iliad). Oswald’s Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Illiad has been described as a remarkable, luminous, and affecting obituary, and a poem which is “a meditation on the loss of human life.” Oswald distils and reimagines Homer’s Illiad, touching on the over 200 soldiers who died in battle—capturing our attention from the opening line, “The first to die was PROTESILAUS.”

Composer Jocelyn Pook has produced a spectaular piece of music, which enters into an inspiring dialogue with the spoken word. Under the leadership of Jonathan Peter Kenny (music director) the musicians and singers were more than up to the challenges of the score—particularly thanks to the sublime voices of Loni Fitzpatrick (soprano), Jonathan Peter Kenny (counter tenor), Kelly McCusker (soprano), Melanie Pappenheim (mezzo soprano), Belinda Sykes (Bulgarian singer) and Tanja Tzarovska (Macedonian singer). I really hope that the team produce a recording for sale which combines the music, song and spoken word.

As the many recordings of the great Richard Burton demonstrate, the spoken word, particularly when illuminated by a great score (who can forget War of the Worlds), makes compelling listening. Helen Morses feat of memory, performing the poem throughout the 105-minute show, held the rapt attention of the preview audience. At times, the only sound to be heard was the squeak of stalls seat L29 (hint to QPAC—oil needed!).

The staging was epic in scale, and certainly aimed high (director Chris Drummond, concept Chris Drummond & Yaron Lifschitz, and producer Lee-Anne Donnolley). Fantastic lighting design (Nigel Levings) and some striking aspects to the set design (Michael Hankin)—particularly the blue water. However, I found some of the repetitive marching distracting, and felt that Morse’s performance was better-served when speaking directly to the audience (memorably when stepping over the footlights to engage with us) or when round the ‘campfire’ with smaller groups from the chorus.  Congratulations to each of the members of the 215-strong chorus for bringing each of the memorialised soldiers briefly to life. Perhaps a future staging might more directly link each member of the chorus with the names memorialised in the poem—building the on-stage presence to a crescendo? A greater focus on naming each person might enhance the re-telling of each character and their death. And I’d love to have seen the musicians and singers in more of a direct dialogue with the performer—perhaps stage left to the performers stage right movements? But then… those who can, do, and those who review… dream.

Me? I’m off to buy a copy of the poem, and will watch out for the CD of the music and speech.

Verdict: Go. Revel in the music, marvel at Helen Moore’s compelling feat of memory—and then reflect.  

Audience tip: Linger after the Show to visit the Brisbane Festival Arcadia, and perhaps catch the free #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light shows (three shows daily during the festival until 29th September 2018).

Memorial ran for 4 shows during the opening weekend of Brisbane Festival 2018 (Friday 7th & Saturday 8th  7:30pm performances, in addition to matinees on Saturday [1:30pm] and Sunday 9th [3:00pm]). For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Friday 7th September 2018 preview.