Literary tales told with a terrific twist

18 October 2022

There’s so much more to the story in this marvellous marriage of music and literature. Penny Shaw has a ball with Lit Live.  

‘Lost and Found’, Lit Live & Music on the Terrace • 
Government House Ballroom, 16 October 2022 • 

It is a rare pleasure as an adult to hear stories read aloud. With none of the distractions of costumes, scenery or soundtrack, we plunge straight into the mind of a character – it is just us and the carefully crafted and expertly delivered words. After the words comes the music. 

Music and storytelling have always been inexorably linked. The four contrasting readings of Lit Live’s Lost and Found are each paired with a piece of music, as themes of love, loss, innocence and freedom are vividly brought to life. 

Katherine Mansfield’s short story, Her First Ball, is beautifully read by Rebecca Davis, transporting us back to early 20th century New Zealand as country girl Leila enters society. We don’t need to imagine her surroundings, as we are in the Government House Ballroom where all is as described; from the red carpets and velvet chairs to the musicians on stage and slippery wooden floors.  

UWA’s finest fill Government House Ballroom with music. Photo: Artshoot Media

We listen rapt, as Leila’s delight rapidly turns to horror when an older dancing partner points out the unavoidable trajectory of her life: Jane Austen meets Virginia Woolf. The dreary vision of her future very nearly ruins her night, but youthful optimism wins in the end.

As Schoenberg’s arrangement of Strauss’ Emperor Waltz begins, charmingly rendered by the University of Western Australia’s finest musicians with Artistic Director of the Government House Foundation Mark Coughlan on piano, you can almost see Leila waltzing in her satin slippers, ribbons flying, as she looks ahead, innocence temporarily misplaced rather than lost.  

With Greg McNeill indisposed, Daphne Du Maurier’s Adieu Sagesse is read with passionate expression by the founder of Lit Live, actor and journalist Sarah McNeill. Ferguson, a 60-year-old bank manager, hears the siren call of the sea, fixes up the boat he brought 10 years previously and decides to escape.  

Pianist Alexander Chua’s exceptional rendition of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau, a musical highlight for me, really evokes the image of Ferguson and his friend, Sam the Crabber, fleeing the suffocating seaside town, away from his tedious job and his presumably confused wife and daughters. We wish the friends well but also fear the aftermath.  

Pianist Mark Coughlan and violinist Ryan Lee perform Brahms. Photo: Artshoot Media

Davis returns to read us What Love Tells Me, Nick Jose’s moving account of a father taking his four-year-old child to the concert hall, where he and his recently deceased wife had bonded over a mutual love of classical music. It is paired with a moving interpretation of Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.3, Coughlan sensitively accompanying UWA violinist Ryan Lee. 

Neil Gaiman’s Chivalry is possibly the most entertaining and confusing of the pieces. Set in post-war England, an elderly widow discovers the Holy Grail in an op shop, buys it for 50 pence and pops it on her mantelpiece. Amusing encounters with a knight, his horse, a plastic bag of slugs and much else follows. McNeill’s hilarious deadpan delivery brings Mrs Whitaker to life, as she pragmatically considers the knight’s offers.  

Vaughan-Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves rounds off the afternoon, Barnaby Beahan’s exquisite flute playing filling the ballroom as the UWA String Quartet is joined by the Cygnus Arioso string quartet and Rachel Fish on the harp.  

Altogether, a delightful and original afternoon of top-quality entertainment.  

Music on the Terrace returns on 6 November with Italian-Slovenian artist Alexander Gadjiev, winner of the Sydney International Piano Competition.

Pictured top: Rebecca Davis takes us back to early 20th century New Zealand. Photo: Artshoot Media

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Author —
Penny Shaw

Penny is an opera singer/cabaret artist/MC/podcaster/writer/director, in fact a self-confessed 'slashie' with a degree in Human Sciences from Oxford University. As a child she loved the the heady terror of a fast roundabout, as a mother of four children she hates swings.

Past Articles

  • Young singers in full voice for opera allsorts

    With 16 soloists, a 37-piece orchestra and a wonderfully varied repertoire, this opera gala is worth singing about, writes Penny Shaw.

  • A superb taste of Spain

    Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya leads a playful WASO through some Spanish flavours, with Penny Shaw particularly taken by a thrilling interpretation of Rodrigo’s famous Adagio. 

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