The Weight of Light. Music composed by James Humberstone. Librettist Nigel Featherstone. Directed by Caroline Stacey. The Street Theatre. Saturday, March 3 at 7.30pm. Season finished.
The Weight of Light is a gem of a piece, combining the performance rhythms of a song cycle with the force of theatre.
A collaboration between The Goulburn Regional Conservatorium and The Street Theatre, The Weight of Light deals with the return of an unnamed soldier from service in Afghanistan to his family on a farm in the Southern Tablelands. Much of its power comes from the delicate way the combination of Nigel Featherstone's spare text and James Humberstone's dark and carefully mournful music touches on issues of masculinity and trauma.
Baritone Michael Lampard's soldier comes home from service in Afghanistan to the shock of his young brother's death and its circumstance. Further, he comes home to news of an unexpected pregnancy. But he is also carrying his involvement in the death of a young girl in Kandahar, caught in fire meant for the 'enemy'.
Lampard's intense performance catches a real sense of the pressure that the soldier is under. He not only plays the soldier but also his mother, calling for him to come home, shifting there into a falsetto that was so wonderfully different from that of a baritone, it caused me to look for another performer's name on the program. He is also effortlessly the voice of the father, of the woman who has news of a pregnancy and of the dead brother, who dies perhaps because his version of masculinity is too gentle to survive.
Alan Hicks at the downstage piano underpins the whole in a careful performance full of the tensions of Humberstone's music and including unexpectedly altering of the sound of the instrument by putting paper on certain strings or bowing them with cords or striking them with mallets.
The sense of the song cycle form is intensified by a very conscious use of those moments in a concert hall in between movements (or songs) where the well-behaved classical music audience does nothing more than cough quietly and ease their positions. There's a weight to such moments, however, that becomes an emotional marker and a taking of breath for the piece as a whole.
The added theatrical elements of a sparse set (by Imogen Keen) (suggesting huge dead branches and the entangling wires you might find about a farm) and selective lighting (by Linda Buck) strengthen the mood with its sombre concerns. It should be noted that Lampard finds even the smallest scrap of light and uses it to the advantage of the performance.
Toward the end there is a resolution that shifts the music and the story to an expression of possible hope.
The Weight of Light will certainly have a life beyond the two Canberra performances.