HOW WAS KATE BUSH’s second show in 35 years? Well let’s say that the Superlative Aficionados meeting won’t be adjourning just yet. The first night reports don’t lie: she flies, she almost dies, a silver birch tree crashes through a piano and, oh, everything. Well, almost. Was she note-perfect? Pretty much, yes. Was the whole show faultless? No, of course not. She’s only human after all, and that fact, conversely, is also her great strength. Who else so successfully alloys songwriting brilliance with individual idiosyncrasy, turning every corner of her imagination from the prosaic to the fantastical into gratifying pop themes, be it a washing machine, her mother’s milk jug or the feelings of an unborn child facing assured nuclear destruction? She can make the listener feel self-conscious, stray perilously close to self-parody at times but always pull it off because we believe her, completely. With Kate Bush, all is fanciful but nothing is ever fake. Before The Dawn has given us a new window onto her creative process, and it’s quite a view.
The lavish £15 programme on-sale last night reveals that Kate and author David Mitchell - who wrote the dialogue for the Ninth Wave segment - initially struggled with the concept of translating side-two of Hounds Of Love into a narrative piece, and you do glimpse that. A domestic vignette in which Kate’s son Bertie and his stage dad sit at home waiting for his mother to return is a little awkward, certainly. (No really, why is she at sea? Does she commute on a fishing trawler? We don’t know.) But the strength of emotion running through the scene – indeed the whole night – overcomes any obstacles of plot. The fact that her actual son is playing the boy who could be left motherless is almost too much to bear. “I only cried twice,” declared MOJO’s reviewer Jim Irvin (whose full review you can read in next month’s issue) as the curtain went up for the interval. I’d gone by the second chorus of Hounds Of Love – just watching mop-haired, 16-year-old Bertie sing his part in the background hunting call so beautifully, while failing to stay in step with the professional backing singers’ two-step shuffle did for me.
The adrenalin shock of The Ninth Wave, crashing into the comparatively straight performance of the opening songs and effectively washing them away inevitably gave the third act, A Sky Of Honey, a high bar to clear. But Aerial’s atmosphere of drowsy afternoon bliss prevailed, its slower pace (in the case of the actors quite literally – and brilliantly – moving in slow motion across the stage) providing a chance to really take in the stage set – this time an amazing changing sky, while in the foreground a giant picture frame fills the proscenium arch where Bertie, as the painter Ivan Aivazovsky, paints the scene. It’s young Albert McIntosh’s big scene and he does a convincing turn. And if it’s indulgent of his mother to add in a song (Tawny Moon) just for him, who could argue with her prerogative to do so?
And if starry skies and medieval bird masks sound like so much prog rock fantasy, that’s probably true too. But this was prog as done by the RSC, Kate’s co-director Adrian Noble getting personal thanks from Kate at the start of the evening, his last night working with her.
Kate’s notes in the programme are revealing. She tells of how wary she was working with Noble, a renowned figure in the theatre, of how she feared he would take over. No doubt a career spent battling the will of male record execs and the dubious fantasies of TV light entertainment directors will do that to you. But she needn’t have worried, Before The Dawn feels unequivocally a Kate Bush production: surprising, moving, endlessly fascinating. Bring on the DVD.
Set list: Lily Hounds Of Love Joanni Top Of The City Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) King Of The Mountain
The Ninth Wave And Dream Of Sheep Under Ice Waking The Witch Watching You Without Me Jig Of Life Hello Earth The Morning Fog
A Sky Of Honey Prelude Prologue An Architect's Dream The Painter's Link Sunset Aerial Tal Somewhere In Between Tawny Moon Nocturn Aerial
Among Angels Cloudbusting
Set list: Lily Hounds of Love Joanni Top of the City Running up That Hill (A Deal With God) King of the Mountain
The Ninth Wave And Dream of Sheep Under Ice Waking the Witch Watching You Without Me Jig of Life Hello Earth The Morning Fog
A Sky of Honey Prelude Prologue An Architect's Dream The Painter's Link Sunset Aerial Tal Somewhere in Between Tawny Moon Nocturn Aerial
Among Angels Cloudbusting