The Sea Cabinet is a song cycle and musical theatre piece by British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert about “memory, obsession, love, and the sea”. It is also the title of her sixth album, featuring a studio performance of the song cycle, which was released on 20 May 2013 and was critically acclaimed, receiving four-starred reviews in The Financial Times and The Independent and a 4.5-starred review in All About Jazz. The music’s sound has been described as a blend of “Weimar cabaret and English music-hall stylings, with disquieting touches of avant-garde jazz”.
In January 2010, Gwyneth Herbert was commissioned by Snape Maltings in Suffolk as artist in residence to write, record and perform a new body of work based on stories of the sea. This was performed in October 2010 at Snape Maltings.
To coincide with the launch of her album of the music, Herbert and her band performed the song cycle at a series of concerts from 23 to 26 May 2013 at Wilton’s Music Hall in London’s East End. Reviewing the performance, The Guardian‘s jazz critic John Fordham said that “Herbert’s imaginative narrative, and her casually commanding voice – whether softly nuanced as confiding speech or at full soaring-contralto stretch – were the central characters in an entertaining and often moving show that opens a new chapter in her creative story”.
In a performance described as “mesmerising” and “a surreal delight”, with “beautiful entrancing music”, Theatre Elision gave the song cycle its United States premiere from 30 May to 9 June 2019 at The Southern Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The production, with a running time of 75 minutes, was directed by Lindsay Fitzgerald. It will be reprised by Theatre Elision, this time at the Elision Playhouse in Minneapolis, from 18 to 28 March 2021.
An album of this music, The Sea Cabinet, was produced by Gwyneth Herbert and Dave Price. It was recorded and engineered by Robert Harder at Britten Studio at Aldeburgh Music, Suffolk, with additional recording and engineering by Robert Harder at Satellite Studios and by Dave Price at the Old Locker Room. The album was mixed by Robert Harder, Gwyneth Herbert and Dave Price and was mastered by Robert Harder. The album’s cover artwork was by Sarah Jones, with photography by Rosie Reed Gold.
The album, financed through a crowd-funding initiative, was released on Herbert’s own Monkeywood label in May 2013.