On Cantata Dramatica’s performance of THE SOUTH SEA BUBBLE: A ballad Opera by Nick and Tony Bicat, from a story Nick Pitts-Tucker.  The Reform Club, London, August 25th 2022



Nick and Tony Bicat, since the late 1960s of Portable Theatre
Have been musical and lyrical movers of what is possible in the play.
Both have also ventured through film, from Wetherby, The Reflecting
Skin and Devil’s Island  through a vast repertoire, as writers, directors,
Composers. Currently its Cantatas which have ignited the fire

In their brother bred cast and kiln. Contemporaries of Brenton
And Hare and the much missed Snoo Wilson, the vibrancy of their language
Graces the siblinged stave and the stage, which The Reform Club Library
Puts on display at this one off performance in August, where privilege
Meets perfection and with a classicist’s touch charms our age.

Channeling Handel, Nick’s noise is soon soothed by structure.
His score is musical invocation; refined and yet vibrant, with notes
And bars bursting like glistening grapes on the vine. As brother Tony’s
Tenses combine eighteenth century phrases, with words which seem
Modern such as in Garraways  opening: ‘Ye circum and uncircumcised/

Come hear my song and be advised’s’ wit-won line. Tony also directs,
With a fluid fringe-like staging, with chairs as a moveable feast,
And a bottle of Guinness for Ireland, along with a Parisian fan
To transport all we  will see on this immaculate journey,
As the Cantatas characters each encounter what the story’s

Message purports.  Inspired by a tightly told tale by Nick Pitts-Tucker
Of a the rise and ruin Pre-Coward of those brave enough to take on
The South Sea Bubble stocks 302 years ago, In which the aristocracy
Were inveigled by a proto-capitalist Captain whose head narrowly
Escapes his own block. This entrepreneur’s name is  John Law,

A man who nearly breaks himself (we learn) later, and yet acts
For now, as persuader, and as founder of financial fun,  
He’s our guide. As he devises the means to change base gold
Into paper, making light of the fortunes that the Duke of Chandos
For one, can provide.  To illicit this he involves two society women

Sofia Kirwan-Baez’s Lady  Mary Herbert and Emily Hazrati’s
Aunt Lady Anne Carrington,  along with Alexander Anderson-Hall’s
Social mover John Gage and Richard Cantillion, an irish banker
To set sail on a (metaphorical) tanker soon to submerge, as these
Ingénues for investment soon become harridans. Gage falls in love

With the divine Lady Mary, and in a song that compares her
To Catharge’s Dido, has ‘her hymen’s rights forgot.’ ‘Tis truly folly
To be true,’is the song’s closing line which informs also,
As it underscores the swift plot.  Nick Bicat’s music fuels this.
As bliss meets Ballad Opera; his use of Harpsichord and piano,

With accordion colour scenes,  with  such clarity that separate
To style or genre, words and sounds are God-chorded as a means
To convey bastard schemes.  With Paris and London enthused
As they fuse the Mississipi Company over there with over here’s
South Sea Bubble, the opening song’s joyous rhythms

And tonal twists capture wins which everyone has
As soon as sin sets them spinning, until the bubble bursts
As they’re prone to,  for when blown for too long, air can sting.
And so having blown, David Jones’ John Law has to suck up
What he’s squandered, as once he has Gage and Chandos,

He cannot, on sentence of death get to England to regulate
And control the fervour they have to play these stocks
Like pianos, with plenty of flourish (much like Keyboardist
Joe Howson), and so it proves too easy, as with all gains
Once counted, to lose track as tongues and lips sweet

And smacking suddenly start to loll. Our excitements seem
Frail when reality’s sturdy, and even though Chandos
Commissions Handel to provide a celebratory Acis & Galatea,
(A beautiful red-headed duet as sung by Ailsa Campbell
And Alexander Hume), joy is fast jaded as, and fruitfulness

Duly pulped; for know what we do, especially when it comes
To money, and while some find failure funny, particularly
Among the rich, what we sculpt is our own memorial bronze,
When it was always gold we most wanted, its gleam screened
By paper , refused here by Newton, but gladly accepted

By Handel himself and John Gay. Society folds, as does a Fiver,
And yet what we’re alive for is the diving into new depths
Which the Bicats depict in this their latest example, of advance
And adventure in a trend spending culture whose pockets
Were emptied and when the strong authorial voice fell bereft.

And yet here, today in this time stamped room behind Piccadilly
We see the silly and the serious too, too note by note. Utopia’s
Words and music deepen joy despite the failures the taunted trio
Are bemoaning, while Angelina Dorlin-Barlow’s Olive Trant,
Mistress to the Regent of France paints air purely

In Little  Conjuring  Book’s aria-esque anecdote. With a tad more pace
The adventurists face the future in which such follies became
De Rigeur. And this is the skill of this 15 Song  Cantata,
A glossy fruit from these growers, these farmers of facts,
Who defer too much message. Instead they offer some wise

And prized words and music which show how, should we
Choose it, the lessons of the past can still teach. We just refuse
To learn.  That’s the joke. The Libretto, too, is a lesson.
As is Nick Bicat’s music and their sister Tina’s design: score as reach.
Another sweet fruit from the family tree, reared from decades.

As those from the theatrical underground of the sixties now attain
Plenty’s height. All that the Bicats begat could be heard here
On Thursday. A one time performance, which has already faded now
As I write.  And yet to work to one aim; which is to illustrate
Something golden and then to relinquish its hold on the moment

Remains the purpose and point of all art. You observe. You engage
And then like love and luck, you can lose it. Ah, but then you remember
And that is the score still to chart. Tony’s simple staging caught all.
That sumptuous space became 1720. As they carried themselves
Across the fine carpet, the members of Cantata Dramatica

Heard Time’s call. So thankyou, also James McOran-Campbell,
Caspar Lloyd James, and the youthful Mariana Da Silvo Sabrinho,
The exuberant Leo Jarvis and spirited Jonathan Creaser,
And the subtle accordion playing of Rafal Luc, and to Julia Stutfield,
Who produced and organised all we witnessed. It was two hours
Away from the present.  And that is a true reformation;

A gift gained in a grand room, governed by light and loss,

Framed by books.



                                                                David Erdos 25/8/22





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