LAMENTATION Lessons of Darkness

St Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington

14/03/2020 - 14/03/2020

NZ Fringe Festival 2020

Production Details

Created by Glenn McKenzie

Lamentation is a contemporary-classical cantata presented by actor counter-tenor Glenn McKenzie. Created for Refugee Week 2019, this meditation on loss and grief features three ‘Lessons of Darkness’ from the ancient book of ‘Lamentations’ based on a celebrated setting by Baroque composer Francois Couperin. The voices of Shakespeare, Bonhoeffer, and Annie Lennox frame his music to connect us throughout time and across culture with all those who have suffered the devastation of displacement and homelessness. Half proceeds will go to refugee organisations.

Lamentation explores a fusion of classical and popular music to explore an emotional landscape that reminds us of the universality of the human experience; an experience that transcends all attempts to separate and divide us. Couperin wrote ‘Leçons de Tenebres’ for Easter 1714, and in this performance the principle arias are recomposed to feature contemporary ‘cello counter-melodies. The three Lessons are placed within poetic and political texts, including Shakespeare’s stirring, if little known, contribution to ‘The Book of Sir Thomas More’ condemning racist prejudice against refugees. The work concludes with Annie Lennox’s stirring anthem for the 2018 film “A Private War”.

Glenn McKenzie is a disabled Kiwi actor, musician, and writer based in Sydney who has spent the past 35+ years performing on concert platform and in theatre throughout England, NZ, and Australia. An accomplished Counter-Tenor, he currently tours internationally his acclaimed chamber theatre work ‘Evensong’ – the fictional biography of Shakespeare’s lover and muse, Mr W.H.

“McKenzie is a consummate performer, both as a musician and an actor” Theatreview NZ
“A dignified, elegant, and thoroughly authentic performance by a distinctly accomplished artist” Melbourne Notes

St Andrew’s on the Terrace, 30 The Terrace, Wellington
Price General Admission $28.50 Concession $14.50 Fringe Addict $21.00
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Wheelchair access available

Theatre , Opera , Solo , Music ,

1 hr 15 min

Cantata as Cabaret – a brave and honest journey through the emotional landscape of dispossession

Review by John Anderson and Jo Hodgson 15th Mar 2020

Three months after the horrific attack in Christchurch, Glenn McKenzie composed and curated a uniquely inspired meditation on grief and dispossession for World Refugee Week. It features three ‘Lessons of Darkness’ from the ancient book of ‘Lamentations’ about the destruction of Jerusalem, arranged by Baroque composer Francois Couperin remixed with Bach, Gershwin and Arvo Pärt to name a few.

It’s a small gathering at much-loved musical space, St Andrews on The Terrace. In his introduction, Glenn McKenzie presents himself as a disabled performer and is open about his disability and struggles. I love his concept of a performance that is relaxed both for the audience and the artist.   

While his health does impinge on the performance at times, I find it liberating as an audience member to rethink what performance with disability means. It allows space for his audience to experience his cantata as they wish, but also allows him the space to take time as needed. 

It is a real treat to hear McKenzie’s voice. His tone is beautiful, rich and free throughout his range, whether singing countertenor or dipping into his bass range.

It sets the tone for a wonderfully thoughtful and moving series of modern and ancient songs and readings. Baroque compositions were often written for countertenor which makes this experience particularly special. The heart wrenching discord and resolve of this style seems to represent the human cry of loss, and when merged with contemporary composers like Pärt, who took his inspiration from the even earlier Gregorian chant, we are transported.

I am not religious, but it is a freeing experience to be in a religious setting and given the opportunity to consider the meaning and human experiences that McKenzie has curated and presents to us.

Overall the cantata is the bones of a substantial work by a consummate performer and inspired composer. It is a privilege to see the workings of such a show and the honesty of the practitioner, which in my mind could easily scale to a full staged choral experience. For me it is, in the best sense, Cantata as Cabaret.

Lamentation – Lessons of Darkness is an excellent choice for Wellington Fringe 2020. It is a brave and honest journey through the emotional landscape of dispossession. I enjoy the show immensely and would encourage anyone with a sense of adventure and openness to try it in the future.


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