Thursday, April 21, 2011

Theatre: Die Winterreise (The Winter Journey)

Presented by ThinIce and Malthouse Melbourne

Songs by Franz Schubert
Conceived and directed by Matthew Lutton
Original text by Tom Holloway
Choreography by Chrissie Parrott
Composition and Sound Design by Kelly Ryall
Lighting design by Paul Jackson
Music supervisor Iain Grandage
Performed by Paul Capsis, James O’Hara, George Shevtsov and Alister Spence
State Theatre Centre Studio
19 - 30 April, 2011

George Shevtsov and Paul Capsis in Die Winterreise
If Matthew Lutton’s notable extrapolation from Franz Schubert’s song cycle Die Winterreise has a flaw, it’s incidental to the piece he and his creative team and performers present on stage at the STC Studio.
I strongly advise you not to read the director’s programme notes or the advance publicity for the show. I think they create misleading impressions or, at the very least, limit your ability to immerse yourself in the work and let your mind be provoked by its powerful imagery and sensory stimulations.
If that means your understanding of the story Lutton is telling is different from his intention, that’s not a failure on your part, or his. Rather, it’s a demonstration of the power of the imagination – the artists’ and yours – to draw a limitless range of conclusions from the same material. And somewhere in that universal yet singular process is the genesis of art.
The actor (George Shevtsov) is alone in his house. He’s cooking dinner – For himself? For others? – and listening to Die Winterreise on a gramophone. Outside, leaves fall, or maybe rain, in a small suburban back yard; or perhaps the house sits alone in a vast wilderness.
He sings along while he cooks. The singer (Paul Capsis) and the dancer (James O’Hara) enter. Are they his friends? Do they mean him harm? Are they figments of his imagination? The musician (Alister Spence) goes to a piano and plays. The singer sings, the dancer dances.
The singer puts his hand softly on the actor’s shoulder; the actor beats the dancer against a table; but for much of the time the three gravitate around each other without contact or obvious connection.
The actor sets a table for four, but then dashes the crockery to the ground. He constantly stares out of windows and doors, raises and lowers blinds. Is someone coming? Is he waiting for their arrival, or dreading it? Can he hear the laughter of children approaching, or the drumbeat of marching feet?
Outside snow begins to fall. Soon, it is falling inside the room as well. The actor speaks. He walks outside and disappears into the blizzard. The music stops. The dance is still. You are left with your thoughts.
This is a beautifully realised piece of theatre, well imagined and performed. The team of sound designer Kelly Ryall, music supervisor Iain Grandage, accompanist and arranger Spence and the phenomenal Capsis have created a wonderful place for Schubert’s mournful, lovely songs, letting the melodies weave through a soundscape that ranges seamlessly from cabaret primping to primal screams. Schubert is the most modern of early nineteenth century composers, and these interpretations have contemporary touches from Randy Newman to Radiohead without once losing integrity or focus.
Chrissie Parrott and O’Hara bring the show a choreography that is both mesmerising and often terrifying to watch. We’re used to having our hearts in our mouths watching footballers dice with injury – there were times during O’Hara’s dances when he drew out that same spine-tingling fear.
And in Shevtsov, Lutton has the perfect actor for the haunted soul whose story (and whose alone, I think) this is. His face rarely moves, and yet it carries grief and knowledge and history in its folds. When he breaks and, in his ruin, tells his awful story, Shevtsov performance rises to a quite majestic height.
The new Studio allows a much higher level of technical production in a small space than Perth has enjoyed until now, and the Malthouse Melbourne team of designer Adam Gardiner, the aforementioned Ryall, lighting designer Paul Jackson and stage manager Darren Kowacki take full advantage of the resources at their disposal. It looks great, it sounds amazing and it’s lit to a T. The one scene change in the play’s 80 minutes seems simple but is actually detailed and surprising.
So make of Die Winterreise what you will, and take from it what you wish. It’s a fine achievement, and one you should try not to miss.

Link here to William Yeoman's call on the production in The West Australian. Mark Coughlan in The Australian was less impressed link here . 

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