Reviews/Musical Theatre/Perth Festival

Music as call for change

5 March 2021

Erin Hutchinson is transported by the loud and the quiet of Black Brass’s maelstrom of music, memory and storytelling.

Black Brass, Mararo Wangai, Perth Festival ·
State Theatre Centre, 4 March, 2021 ·

The Studio Underground foyer in the State Theatre Centre sets a vibrant scene for Black Brass, with displays and stalls of goods from Perth’s African artisans – all a fitting reminder of the wealth of culture brought here by migrants and refugees from the continent’s diverse countries.

Inspired by those communities in Perth, Black Brass celebrates people’s stories of resilience and opens the doors of understanding and connection a little wider.

Written by and starring Kenyan-born Mararo Wangai, Black Brass is a musical theatre show you will not want to miss. From its quiet beginning to its poignant finish, it captures your attention and draws you into a whirlpool of masterful storytelling. The Studio Underground is intimate enough for this story to be deeply touching.

It begins in silence as we are introduced to Sleeper (played by Wangai), a late-night cleaner in a record studio, whose presence and natural style as he moves about the rubbish-strewn studio stir your curiosity. An old record player comes to life with Billie Holiday’s ‘Solitude’ and Sleeper’s situation is established quickly and with good humour. Nervous about his interview the next day to stay in the country, Sleeper doesn’t notice a man left in the record studio, and so enters ‘Trumpet’, played with charm and cheeky attitude by composer-musician Mahamudo Selimane, giving us some fun nods to ‘the greats’ of rock before his talents are really let loose.

Mararo Wangai, left, as Sleeper and Mahamudo Selimane as Trumpet, in ‘Black Brass’. Photo: Christophe Canato

What follows is a peeling back of layers of memory, a revealing of the past as Sleeper and Trumpet interact. Through stories and music, mentions of a smell, a sound, a drink, all trigger moments of remembrance and lead the audience through laughter and sorrow. As the revolve stage spins, it emphasises Sleeper’s frantic thoughts and emotional upheaval … and Wangai and Selimane deserve serious kudos for not getting dizzy in some turns.

Selimane and Wangai work supremely well with one another and clearly relish the songs in Swahili, Lingala and French that they share with the audience.

Director Matt Edgerton has paced the show well. For an almost constantly moving piece, there were plenty of moments of light and shade, and all the production elements worked wonderfully together. Zoe Atkinson’s thoughtful costumes and revolving set design are visually appealing and allowed for lovely moments of creative play on stage. Lucy Birkinshaw’s lighting design highlighted the poignant moments of stillness, and the simple but highly effective sound design by Tim Collins worked wonders in bringing the audience back to earth when Wangai and Selimane managed to take us somewhere else.

And when they took us somewhere else, gee whiz, was it magic! Music can take us home. It can give us a voice. Music is used as a tool of resilience, as a tool of revolution. As Sleeper says, music “colours the space between voices”. The real lessons here, exposed by the silences in between, are how your past can shape you, and whether or not you should leave it behind. Is the touch of another or feeling the earth beneath your feet enough when there is wrong in the world?

Trumpet is Sleeper’s voice come alive, and his voice calls out for change in the world. I hope the hearts and minds in our home here can be open enough to hear his call.

Black Brass is on at the Studio Underground in the State Theatre Centre until Sunday, 7 March, 2021.

Pictured top: Sleeper (Mararo Wangai) sings and Trumpet (Mahamudo Selimane) plays, in ‘Black Brass’. Photo: Christophe Canato

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Author —
Erin Hutchinson

Erin Hutchinson is an actor, singer, theatre maker and teacher who is passionate about local arts. Whilst she wishes she could still be a ninja on the monkey bars, she’s content to enjoy a turn on the swings… easier to still hold a glass of wine.

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