Poignant concert

• Hilton soprano Bonnie de la Hunty.

THE AUDIENCE will literally go nuts when baroque ensemble HIP Company play the old Customs House in Fremantle next month.

Featuring music from the 17th and 18th century that reflected society’s then-macabre fascination with madness, Bedlam is a poignant musical exploration of insanity and its “supernatural” overtones.

It’s also a salient reminder of the barbaric methods once used to treat mental illness, especially at the infamous Bethlem Royal Hospital in London.

It was reported that 55-year-old American James Norris was admitted to Bethlem in 1800 and continuously restrained for about a decade in a harness that severely restricted his movement.

“In the 17th and 18th centuries, mental illness was not well understood, and civilians would pay to be spectators 

at the hospital to witness the supposedly supernatural enigma of insanity,” says HIP Company soprano Bonnie de la Hunty, who lives in Hilton.

“This kind of fascination with madness pervaded European literature, theatre and music of the time.”

The ensemble approach the music with meticulous detail, using historical instruments from the era like baroque violin, cello and harpsichord.

For Bedlam they will perform operatic ‘Mad Songs’ of Restoration England by Henry Purcell and John Eccles, and dramatic instrumental works including Antonio Vivaldi’s La Folia (Madness) trio sonata.

• An unfortunate ‘patient’ at Bethlem Royal Hospital in the early 1800s.

Some of the works only exist in old moldering manuscripts, so the ensemble has created modern arrangements for the concert.

The mood will be enhanced with atmospheric lighting, Howard Park vino and a “promenade-style exploration” of the historic Old Customs House.

“Our focus with HIP company is making ‘historically informed performance practice’ – a movement in Early Music that seeks to realise music of the past ‘authentically’,” de la Hunty says.

“We want it to be relevant and approachable to modern audiences.

“We do this by combining tradition with innovation in our programming and events, which typically feature a modern twist in the thinking behind them, the lighting and effects, and in how we interact with the audience.”

Formed in Perth in 2020, the following year HIP Company released their debut album Pastorales and have played 12 concerts in Australia, with some featuring historical Noongar music and Irish and Scottish folk.

“While most of our repertoire is from the European Baroque era of the 17th and 18th centuries, we also love exploring the effect of time and place on music by combining historical practices and instruments with pop, jazz or folk music,” de la Hunty says.

“Without giving too much away, a couple of pieces in our Bedlam programme will fuse early 18th century music with some well-known contemporary music.”

Bedlam is at the Old Customs House, 8 Phillimore Street on Saturday April 9. Tix at trybooking.com/bxlmm

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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