Dave Starke and Perran Hahndiek have known each other since the age of 9. It seems destiny set them on the creative path they are one today when in 1999 Starke borrowed Hahndiek’s “Leonard Cohen – Greatest Hits”, without giving it back, forever binding them together as brothers-in-music. This year sees them producing their first show together, and what else can it be than a celebration of that musical master, through narrative and song, in the form of the show Cohen – A Tribute at the Rosebank Theatre.
As it is not every day you see a poet try his hand at script writing, it was interesting to hear Hahndiek’s take on their creative process and how the vision for this show took shape.
Creating a show together was originally Starke’s idea, Hahndiek shares, “I mean we grew up together listening to folk music, listening to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, all the classical folk musicians.” So it is no surprise that with the passing of Leonard Cohen last year the guys started developing a show that pays tribute to one of music hero. “I was always more into writing,” Hahndiek elaborates, “while he was always more into music and performance. So he asked me to write the script”.
But what makes this all translate to the stage one wonders? “Leonard Cohen’s life is a great story,” Hahndiek explains, “so the show speaks to the themes he wrote about, because he was an author and a poet and a musician. I can’t think of anyone else who has used those three mediums – literature, poetry and music – to such a high level. You get poets, like Bob Dylan, poets that are musicians, but not authors. The fact that Cohen could combine these three mediums” feeds into why his music is so relatable.
So you will definitely see Cohen’s reflection of self, loneliness, relationships and even transcendence, all the things he found and experienced in his life, in this production. “Those themes are what make his music timeless,” Hahndiek reflects, “and that’s why people will still be listening to it for many generations to come”.
Listening to Hahndiek talk about Cohen and his impact on words as art, whether captured in poetry or through song, it is clear that he has a creative and personal respect for Cohen and the legacy he left. “I grew up listening to Cohen, and every time my understanding of his music and his poetry changed.”
Essentially, it is about Leonard Cohen’s life, says Hahndiek, “his legacy, and how his music and poetry reflects his ideas”. Starke as an experienced musician “knows how to talk to the audience and knows how the audience might respond”, so Hahndiek has given him the script he wrote to run with as a narrative, with enough scope for Starke to adapt it to his performance style and to give it a “first person telling of Leonard Cohen's story”.
Apart from the creative call to do a Cohen tribute, Hahndiek says he never really set out to experiment with script writing. “I’m a poet, a published poet, so poetry is really the kind of medium that I know well and one of the reasons I relate to and followed Leonard Cohen. Also I’ve dabbled in literature, sort of short stories, but it is something I want to practice a bit more. But doing something for the stage, it is obviously a different approach to stories. Although the stage is not something I set out to do, this opportunity to collaborate with Dave is exciting.”
Asking him about the feel of the show, Hahndiek describes it as “definitely something interesting, with some of it told through my narrative, but really the main message being carried through the lyrics and the music.” With Starke giving voice to their vision as a professional musician, Hahndiek professes himself excited to see how audiences will experience the impact of the telling through music, through “literally the words of Leonard Cohen himself”.
Ultimately, Hahndiek would like audiences to take away an understanding of who Leonard Cohen was, along with a sense of what he represents, as the things he wrote about and sang about all speak “to the heart of the human condition... because he had a message. For example, his song ‘Hallelujah’, probably his most famous song, is all about how broken the world is, yet he still as an artist finds the courage to celebrate.”
One can definitely sense the tribute in the celebratory journey this duo have set out to take audiences on, through the merging of narrative and song. It features songs spanning Cohen's full career (everything from his early favourites "Suzanne" and "Sisters of Mercy" to his later "Tower of Song" and "String Treaty"), interspersed with biographical notes and extracts of his writing.
You can see this visions of Hahndiek and Starke translate to stage in their show, Cohen – A Tribute, at the Rosebank Theatre from 9 to 13 May. Tickets available online at Webtickets.