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Hymns for the Witching Hour

For many cultures across the globe, particularly in Asia, it’s believed that spirits rise in the dead of the night. It’s in these late but early hours, commonly referred to as the witching hour, the thin veil between life and death can be easily punctured.

By Tierney Seccull

This idea of the witching hour, and the otherworldly sense it stirs, has inspired the latest work from Darwin based musician and producer James Mangohig, aka Kuya James. Hymns for the Witching Hour premieres at Brown’s Mart Theatre this month, and draws on James’ Filipino-Australian heritage and former religious beliefs.

“I guess, growing up in the church, I definitely had a kind of weird upbringing, talking about lots of things like the angels and devils and God … When I left the church and did my first theatre show, In-Between Two, I kind of shared a bit of my journey in leaving the church,” he says.

“When I was young, I had this really vivid imagination. My father and I would say these prayers before bedtime, kind of about spiritual warfare about angels and Christ’s blood protecting our house … I imagined this shield going over our house and would lay in bed, and my brain would explode with colours and visions.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve spoken to my father about the night, and nightmares, and dreams with him … I realised I wanted to make a show about the comfort I feel from music when I think of those scary spiritual warfare scenes, and so Hymns for the Witching Hour became this comforting soundtrack that I started writing.”

Through James’ musical soundscape, the immersive work captures the essence of the witching hour, yet soothes the unrest it may stir. The set design’s been crafted in the clever mind of Jocelyn Tribe, and features choreography by Kino McHugh, who is joined by dancers Ruttiya McElroy and Steph Spillett. The trio of dancers are cloaked by video projections reminiscent of James’ childhood.

“It was Jocelyn Tribe who came up with the idea of using these overhead projectors, because before I played music in church, my job was to move the words on the overhead projector – I had to have the next sheet ready for the hymn or contemporary Christian rock song,” he laughs.

“Jocelyn loved the idea, so they’re full analogue projections from overhead projectors. That’s a cool link, because that’s what my job used to be in the church, but also something from growing up in Australia in the 80s and 90s.

“I love those little nostalgic things that remind us of a simpler time. I’m not someone to harp on about how things used to be better, I just think it’s nice to sometimes remember those really simple times.”

In previous performance works, such as James’ music production for Tracks Dance shows, he’s followed the lead of the dancers, the music designed for the choreography. But in Hymns for the Witching Hour, his music has led the charge.

Delve into the late-night mind of Kuya James, where angels and devils tread both worlds, and through his music find some comfort in those lonely hours.


Hymns for the Witching Hour 
WHEN TUE 23 MAY – SAT 3 JUN (EXC. SUN & MON) | 7PM
AT BROWN’S MART THEATRE
COST $44 | $34 SEN | $28 CONC
INFO brownsmart.com.au

Photos: Charlie Bliss

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