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Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Meriton Festival Village, Hyde Park North, Sydney
January 7, 2017
When The Fiery Maze – featuring 16 songs with music by Tim Finn and lyrics by the late Dorothy Porter, one of the rock stars of Australian poetry – was performed at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne last year, reviewers felt that the traditional theatre space was too formal a venue. Well, The Fiery Maze has found a perfect niche in the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent as part of Sydney Festival.
Tim Finn and Abi Tucker. Photo by Prudence Upton
Conceived by Finn and Porter as a rock concert album, a recording of it was made in 1995 featuring the mesmerising vocals of Abi Tucker. Porter died in 2008 and the songs languished in Finn’s bottom drawer until Tucker contacted him a few years ago and asked what had happened to them.
If you go to The Fiery Maze expecting a cabaret show or a piece of music theatre you’ll come up wanting, but as a music gig with a loose narrative it’s richly satisfying. Essentially it’s an alt rock song cycle progressing from the dizzy thrill of first love and erotic passion through to the souring of a relationship and the heartache and recriminations that follow.
Performed by Tucker with Finn (keys, guitar, percussion and backing vocals) and guitarist Brett Adams, it begins with a woman looking back on an affair “light years away” when she and her lover “burned for each other in our love’s hopeless fiery maze”.
From there the music ranges in style from country rock ‘n’ roll and dirty, aching blues to floating love songs and delicate ballads. There’s a rocking ode to Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, a song about the start of the affair in Ballarat of all places (“Will Ballarat ever be the same or will our first night be its claim to fame”), anger at a lover’s possessiveness in Bride Doll, heartache and anguish in the dark, bluesy Black Water (“Black water tastes sweeter than stale happiness”) and a beautiful, wistful number called January about possible new beginnings.
Finn’s music complements Porter’s visceral lyrics and Tucker sings it with intoxicating empathy. Her scorching, smoky voice, so full of different textures and hues, is able to express the gamut of emotions.
The show credits Anne-Louise Sarks as director. Though she may have done more in Melbourne, her contribution isn’t clear here, as it’s essentially a music gig. In fact, the only slightly jarring note is when Tucker occasionally tries to over-dramatise a song, with an unnecessary amount of facial expression and gesture – perhaps a left-over from performing in a theatre.
Quibbles aside, Finn’s fans will relish the chance to see him perform live and hear little-known songs so powerfully performed. The audience certainly gave it a rapturous response at the performance I saw.
The Fiery Maze plays until January 12. Tim Finn’s musical Ladies in Black plays at the Lyric Theatre until January 22