27 July 2011

Review: Die Winterreise

Die Winterreise
Malthouse Theatre and Thinice
22 July 2011
Merlyn Thearte, CUB Malthouse
to 31 July 2011


I understand why Schubert purists are not enamored by Die Winterreise, but I'm a Schubert virgin, so was more than happy to go with the flow and the snow of this gorgeous meditation about the loneliness, guilt and sorrow of ageing.

Malthouse Theatre has again paired with Matthew Lutton's Thinice company from Perth  (The Trial) and bring together a creative dream-team to re-imagine the song cycle that Franz Schubert wrote a year before he died at 31 (in 1828).

Die Winterreise was based around the poems of Wilhelm Müller, who also died in his early 30s (in 1827). He and Schubert achieved their fame posthumously. Director Lutton, who has yet to hit the 30s danger zone and already enjoying artistic recognition, says that when he first listened to the cycle "the music aroused recollections in me I found difficult and painful to articulate". His finished work is a glimpse into the thoughts of a young man sharing the angst of his fellow-artists.

An old man (George Shevtsov) cooks a meal alone in his one-roomed flat. Listening to a Shubert recording, he faces his memories and his younger selves as they appear as a singer (Paul Capsis), dancer (James O'Hara) and pianist (Alistair Spence).

It's at times obvious, but its artistry turns even the more clichéd moments into something genuine, painful and beautiful. Chrissie Parrot's choreography, Adam Gardnir's design and Paul Jackson's lighting bring the multiple layers of this work out of the music and onto the stage. With such visceral visuals, the emotional impact of Die Winterreise is there without the music.

But this is a piece of music and it's far from a Schubert chamber concert. Sound designer Kelly Ryall and arranger Spence have deconstructed the music so that isn't so much an arrangement of Die Winterreise, but a complex sampling that lets us hear the beauty of the music, but forces the focus onto the stage story rather than the story in the score.

As a piece for voice, cabaret-favourite Paul Capsis was a curious choice, and a wonderful one.  With the help of music supervisor Iain Grandage, Capsis has let go of his show mask and by being more subtle in his performance, he's found a rounder and fuller voice that brings him so much closer to the hearts of his audience. I'm looking forward to seeing how he brings this into his cabaret shows.

The work ends with a monologue, written by Tom Holloway, which gives it an unexpected and defining narrative. Although it's beautifully sad, and Shevtsov's performance is heart breaking, it takes away the personal images and stories the audience were creating for themselves.

Die Winterreise is already dividing opinion, which is always a good reason to see something and decide for yourself.



This review appeared on  AussieTheatre.com

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