On a sunny Spring day in peaceful Perth, a vibrant, energetic crowd descends upon the tiki Batcave that is Badlands Bar. Conversation flows smoothly and easily, like the first beer on this hot afternoon, drowning out the big band sounds reminiscent of Royal Crown Revue or Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Excited anticipation builds as the sounds take on a new flavour; a Spanish ballad, perhaps? It’s hard to discern over the chatter of the crowd. The joyful, jubilant crowd laughing in the warm spring air seems incongruous with the heavy topic the show is to address. I can’t help but wonder if it was a deliberate decision or coincidence for this performance of The Hollow Cause to be scheduled at the beginning of Yom Kippur.
Nobody here really knows what to expect, other than a performance of new music about the holocaust. Nevertheless, there’s an electricity in the air generated by the certainty that we are about to bear witness to something special. Creator and composer, Keshet, introduces himself and welcomes his eager audience. He conveys his intention to immortalise the evil deeds of the past, while refusing to enshrine those who carried them out. For this reason, Keshet explains, individuals and specific parties are not named in the lyrics. When it is unavoidable that they are directly referred to, names have been replaced. The other thing that made an impression before the music had even begun is the revelation that the artists who were about to perform have been involved for just a few weeks, in which they have learnt and rehearsed over two hours of new music – a feat which, by any standards, one can and should be justifiably proud.
The overture begins calmly, but quickly becomes faster, the melody somewhat erratic and harder to follow, echoing the chaos erupting in Germany in 1944.
As the thumping bass of the timpanis evokes images of soldiers’ boots marching upon the ground, we are introduced to Erminguild (Ryan Dawson), a middle-aged German Jew instrumental in founding The Jewish Corps. Erminguild laments the loss of his grandfather’s old toy shop as drums continue to beat like a ticking clock counting down to impending doom. Lilli (Riley Lane), a young Jewish woman, howls in “Hunger”. The harrowing lyrics and haunting discord leave only the hardest of hearts unmoved. Her resolve to survive is strong, stronger than starvation.
The music becomes upbeat, so terrifyingly upbeat that one might be forgiven for thinking they were listening to The Andrews Sisters. To juxtapose lyrics detailing the atrocities with such jubilant melodies is a stroke of brilliance, highlighting how dark and sinister the actions being narrated are.
One of the most poignant songs, ‘Strike Them At Length’ reveals Erminguild’s inner turmoil as he must choose between protecting the Jews or fighting the Nazis.
Deliciously irreverent, ‘You Better Pray’, provides comic relief as the commander of the camp, Herr Hauptmann (Steve ‘Biggles’ Dillon), threatens Dr M (Sam Rabbone) to find the escapees or suffer the consequences.
The horrifying ‘March of the Muselmann’ is appropriately distressing. The eerie, haunting chants create a surreal sense of dread, while the lyrics conjure events that you don’t want to believe could be true, yet one gets the sense that the reality of what it represents must have been much worse.
In ‘The Frozen Riverbed’, Clarimond (Alyssa Burton) and Marduk (Vin Trikeriotis) sing “we seem to make a good team”, and indeed they do. The lyrics overlap here, signifying the attraction and bond that these two young Jewish operatives share before a chilling event threatens to break their intimacy and separate them.
Keshet has skilfully and sensitively woven a tale that honours the strength of the human spirit – of strength in the face of adversity, of hope that lives alongside despair, and of courage when all else is lost.
The Hollow Cause is currently in development for its debut season, which will also feature full orchestration supplied by WACO (West Australia Charity Orchestra).
Opportunities exist for industry professionals who want to get involved, and expressions of interest are currently being accepted.
Contact [email protected] for more information.
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