[20020073] Old Wicked Songs

Old Wicked Songs

Independent Theatre Inc @ Odeon Theatre

2:00pm, Sat 16 Mar 2002

Score: 8

Short Review: Gritty

Set amidst the election campaign that brought (purported) former Nazi Kurt Waldheim to power in Austria, 1986, “Old Wicked Songs” describes the relationship between Austrian music Professor Josef Mashkan, and fallen-from-grace prodigal American pianist Stephen Hoffman.

Amidst an elaborate, homely set (Mashkan’s studio), Hoffman arrives with the intention of revitalising his interest in the piano – but discovers he must first spend three months studying as a vocalist, rather than a pianist. So their relationship begins – Hoffman as the reluctant student filled with arrogance (“I find things by myself”), Mashkan as the teacher with plenty to prove, but seemingly nothing to lose.

The development of their relationship is paralleled through Mashkan’s teaching of Schumann’s Dichterliebe – from which the play gets it’s name – and is also used to show the men’s personal growth as well. The intense Hoffman is well played by Joseph Hynes, but David Roach’s stellar Mashkan is wonderfully controlled, with great variation… witness the teaching of the “silent song”, or the seduction of the piano.

Humour is nicely used within the script – the “Walhzheimers” quip is a cracker, as is Mashkan’s Broadway description (“teeth and gums”) – and the only qualm I had with the script is that it drips with melancholy for the last five minutes. However, the rest of the time there are some wonderful threads through the script – a seemingly anti-semitic undercurrent initially, but nothing is ever as it seems – as Mushkan states, “common ground must exist”.

In the end, we witness two friendless, self-loathing men become trusted confidantes, in an emotional journey which begins at almost diametrically opposite points for the two men, but end together. Well worth the trip out to the Odeon.

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