Bohemian Rhapsody’s glorious underbelly

bohemianrhapsody
ANYWAY THE WIND BLOWS: Bohemian Rhapsody through the eyes of a painter, impeccably played by Robert Fridjhon. Photograph courtesy The Daily Maverick.

WHAT AN ABSOLUTE joy to watch a brand new piece of theatre crafted with compassion, structured with wisdom and levity and put together with an impeccable sense of focus. Robert Fridjhon brings you a back story for British rock band Queen’s most famous song ever, Bohemian Rhapsody, breathing muscular, colourful life into suppositions, in a complex, nuanced, rollicking monster of a production that you want to be able to bookmark and return to, again and again. Watching this production, you want to press “pause”, so that you can catch your breath, from time to time, in the wealth of nuance, language and thoughtfulness it unpacks.

Considered a mock opera by some, speculated as a musical interpretation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment by others, the complicated song which has various parts and features rich haunting and unforgettable harmonies, tells a weird story of love and hate, murder and hell, but the true back story has never been revealed.

Fridjhon casts a magnificent presence over this heady work, which effectively raises the bar for theatre of this nature. Arguably, it will redefine Fridjhon as both performer and writer. Teasing the song’s lyrics apart, but never disrespecting them, this is a quirky story of a painter whose career is thwarted by poverty, a philandering character called Lazarus and paranoia, amongst other things. It’s a grim tale brought into vivid and intoxicating focus with beautiful language, a whole gamut of art historical asides and puns, and a reflection on the 1970s when the song was born that will leave you with the smell of linseed oil in your heart and head.

Don’t expect to see a musical interpretation of the song, but if you do love the music and know it well, this theatre work offers deeply intelligent resonances with the music, which is deftly threaded through its texture. But even if you don’t know the song, the play is robust, watchable and wise enough to hold its own. Structured elegantly with refrains and satisfying narrative rhythms of repetition, the work sees Alan Swerdlow’s direction at its very best, and a mature understanding of the interface of set with sound, which never stoops into being gimmicky or invasive while it flawlessly retains credibility and an almost gothic sense of horror.

It’s another brilliant achievement for Pieter Toerien and Montecasino: something truly not to be missed.

  • Bohemian Rhapsody: The Untold Story is directed by Alan Swerdlow and written and directed by Robert Fridjhon. Featuring set and lighting design by Alan Swerdlow and Francois van der Hoven, it performs at the Studio Theatre, Montecasino in Fourways until April 17. Call 011 511 1818 or visit www.montecasinotheatre.co.za

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Robyn Sassen

A freelance arts writer since 1998, I fell in love with the theatre as a toddler, proved rubbish as a ballerina: my starring role was as Mrs Pussy in Noddy as a seven-year-old, and earned my stripes as an academic in Fine Arts and Art History, in subsequent years. I write for a range of online and print publications, including the Sunday Times, the Mail & Guardian and artslink.co.za and was formerly the arts editor of the SA Jewish Report, a weekly newspaper with which I was associated for 16 years. This blog promises you new stories every week, be they reviews, profiles, news stories or features.

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