Gwilym Evans - MAJOR BITTERN (Baritone)
Christine Sandberg - ANNE (Soprano)
Peter Lewis - DAVID (Baritone)
Dennis Greene - SIMON (Tenor)
Moses Manzini - HEADMASTER (Tenor)
Matthew Rudd - JIMMY (Treble)
Martin - ENERGY (Treble)
Carlisle School Pupils -
FARM SCHOOL CHILDREN (Chorus)
Members of the Bulawayo Choral Society
under the direction of
transfer from vinyl recording
Robbie's Gone (1975)
ABOUT THE SHOW
Robbie's Gone is best described as an indigenous Rhodesian musical. The widely varying styles of Western music~and African song have been composed by Peter Creswell in conjunction with his writing of the story. He has achieved a sympathetic combination of music and drama in the creation of this work.
The World Gala Premiere of this show was staged in Bulawayo, Rhodesia, in January, 1975. So resounding was the acclaim by the press, public and professional musical opinion that the only course was to re-assemble the multi-racial cast from Bulawayo and its outlying districts and mount the show in the national capital, Salisbury.
The happy charm, natural acting ability and marvellous sense of rhythm of the Africans stole the limelight of the show, although prior to January, 1975, none of them had ever appeared on stage before.
The plot itself centres around Robbie Strachan, the widely-loved, elderly gentleman who has come from Kenya with his young wife, Anne, to farm in Rhodesia. They have been accompanied by Robbie's nephew, Simon Strachan and the peppery farm manager, Major Mervin Bittern. A sketch of how the plot unfolds is set out below.
THE STORY AND MUSIC
The Overture is a clear miniature of the story, reflecting characters, mood and action, rich in its mixture of music native both to Africa and Europe. The quiet opening theme played by the flute is Mr. Mtsheleli's song (the Headmaster). It is imbued with the qualities of tranquillity and philosophy which the character brings to bear over troubled or frivolous people about him throughout the story. Thus in the Overture it re-appears to link excerpts from the exciting "PUMP DANCE", Anne's heart-rendering plea in “STILLNESS OF“ NIGHT" and the Major's angry’ outburst “SIMON IS A STUPID’ FELLOW". '
The curtain rises on the African school children in the late afternoon, singing in the African idiom to their Headmaster of their concern for Robbie (SICELELA u NKOSI). Their song is overheard by Anne, who is on her way to give them a lesson. During the lesson, the newly appointed District Commissioner, David Fielding, arrives. Slowly, the tale of Robbie unfolds, to David and the audience simultaneously.
In the same scene, Simon - who has a mania about the malfunction of the borehole pump - is introduced. He tinkers with the pump, only to produce the usual off-beat rhythm from it which builds up to the wildly fascinating music that compels the farm girls to dance when they come to draw their water (BOREHOLE PUMP DANCE). Whilst Simon has been thus occupied, Anne has invited David to come up, just as he is, to dine at the homestead.
Finding that David has no tie, Prune, the house servant insists he should wear one. His answer to the plight is the presentation to David of a large, gaudy bowtie - his very own - which he insists that the District Commissioner must wear not only that night, but keep as a gift. Such is the situation, David breaks into the gay song of the 1920's genre (TYING UP MY NEW BOW TIE)*. In total contrast, comes the Elizabethan simplicity and pensive mood after dinner in “LOVERS WILL ALWAYS PART" by which time the extent of Robbie's mental aberration is clear to all. The quiet appeal in Anne's singing after the flute introduction is deeply moving: tension is built until, after the guests have gone and Robbie is safely locked in his bedroom, her heart-rendering appeal to the night (in the form of an operatic aria, “STILLNESS OF NIGHT") perfectly sets the atmosphere for Robbie's terrible accidental death at the end of Act I. The immediate spiritual desolation of the community, instanced by his demise, is portrayed through the African lament, “NGlNGEDWA".
Come back Strachan:
I am alone, alone.
What am I to do?
You are. now gone.
Oh! I remain
Helpless and in great
Sorrow in the world.)
Act II opens on Robbie's funeral, set in a farm shed. The entire farming community of the district is represented. Robbie is remembered and imagined in the next world in the singing of the fine funeral chorus “ROBBlE'S GONE" which is overlaid by a soaring soprano (Anne) counter-melody.
The climax of pent-up feelings after the funeral bursts in “SIMON IS A STUPID FELLOW", sung by the Major after an argument between Simon and himself over a seemingly trivial matter involving Prune and a semi-precious stone.
Happy relief, six weeks later is brought to the sory in a blissful picnic scene. David, Anne, Jimmy (Anne's son) and Energy (Headmaster's son) note the marvels of nature, particularely as the fest in the life of the weaver birds, whose empty nests Anne has questioned. (“WEAVERS' SONG“). The relationship between David and Anne is seen to be such that Anne's dismissal of Major Bittern is no surprise. The depth of the latter's feelings for Anne and the pathos of his situation are „NOW SHE MAKES ME GO".
Life seems remarkably good again to Anne. Her happiness is evident to her pupils who demand a song from her. The gay waltz “MY HEART IS READY TO LOVE AGAIN" follows. David declares his love for her and his desire to re-constitute the farm into the productive concern it should be (“THINK OF A LIFE TOGETHER”).
Their state of euphoria is shattered as they appreciate the spine-chilling purport of the duet sung by the Headmaster and Simon (“I SAW THE LlON STRIKE HIS PREY"). This is the supreme dramatic climax of the story, built up as the Headmaster recounts in the Ndebele tongue, the story of exactly how Robbie's first “accident” occurred while driving a tractor. He reveals with Simon singing the English translation how, unseen, he saw the Major push Robbie off his tractor and strike him several heavy blows on the head with a spanner.
The Major's murder plot is positively unravelled: after a dramatic fight between the Major and Simon, the former's conviction of the successful murder of Robbie in the second "accident" is certain when David identifies the semi-precious stone Prune found in Robbie's room the night he died as being the one missing from the Major's key-ring.
Simon recovers from the injury sustained in his fight with the Major, contemplates the infamous pump and suddenly, hits on the fault. Thrilled, he rapidly has it running like clockwork. The farm girls come to draw their water and are dismayed by the absence of pump "music". Stupefied by their reaction but resigned to the many underlying, unchangeable qualities of Africa that render it timeless. Simon kicks the old machine back into its crazy, rhythmical beat and the curtain falls on the perpetually dancing girls.
ABOUT THE COMPOSER
Peter is London born, educated at Charterhouse and was commissioned into the Life Guards in 1960. After 7 years’ service with that Regiment in Germany, Windsor, Libya, London and Malaya, he resigned in order to study music seriously. He is a Licentiate of both the Trinity College of Music London and the Royal Schools of Music. He terminated 6 years as Director of Music,
Falcon College, Essexvale, in August, 1975, in order to produce “ROBBlE'S GONE" in Salisbury with a view to becoming a full-time composer and producer.
New to Rhodesia in 1969, he was immediately sensitive to the “magic” of the country and has developed a deep affection for it.
‘ Footnote: This song, with three others, has not been included on this record