Described as ‘a music-theatre piece in two acts’ by American composer Harry Partch, Delusion of the Fury sees Ensemble musikFabrik resurrect Partch’s vision on the stage of the King’s Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.
Dressed in quasi-industrial steampunkish garb, the musicians take position behind, beside – and in some cases – amongst the unique instruments, reconstructed from Partch’s original designs by Ensemble member Thomas Meixner. Like inventions from a mad musician’s laboratory, the Blo-boy, the Chromelodeon and the Gourd Tree dominate the stage beside the few conventional instruments which comprise this strange orchestra.
Largely percussive in nature, the instruments are then used by the Ensemble to accompany a dreamlike tale inspired by Noh theatre, where a penitent pilgrim is confronted by a murdered ghost, in a transcendent piece of visual performance which is at times hypnotic, thanks mostly to the use of the multi-layered set on which the drama unfolds. The atonal music is a constant accompaniment, rhythmic patterns appearing and disappearing as quickly as ghosts themselves, with vocal chanting adding to the sense of otherworldliness.
Things melt into the second act without interval, presented as a more humorous piece concerning a hobo and an old woman clashing before the face of justice. Absurdist rather than comedic, the nonsense singing and giant cardboard heads feel at times like being part of a performance put on by visiting aliens, who have read about music and theatre rather than having experienced it.
Though the technical aspects of the instruments, the composition and the giant set are all impressive, the overall impact and cohesion of Delusion of the Fury is often too hard to make out behind its deliberate obtuseness, culminating in a performance which demands much of the audience without offering enough in return to be truly satisfying.