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The Soldier’s Tale

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
Faustian pacts are everywhere just now. After Headlong’s post-modern cut-up of Brit-art soul-selling in Dundee last week, The Academy of St Martin In The Fields go back to World War One for Stravinsky’s similarly audacious piece of boutique musical theatre. Composed in 1918 with a libretto by novelist Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, as director Lawrence Evans makes clear in his extensive programme notes, this is different from both Marlowe and Goethe’s creations in that Ramuz and Stravinsky’s hero is tricked into putting his soul in hock rather than going willingly.

The Soldier’s violin becomes a symbol of purity, with the metaphor pushed even further by having an actor who plays the fiddle for real take the title role. Played alongside the Academy’s seven-piece ensemble, who step in and out of the action at various points, such authenticity lends depth to Anthony Marwood’s turn, even when forced to mouth a text which at times sounds unavoidably stilted in its English language translation.

As designer as well as director, Evans does everything in his power to de-formalise proceedings, from having Walter Van Dyk’s narrator enter through the audience wielding an umbrella to onstage projections of archive newsreel footage alongside portents of the future such as the Millenium Dome. Agnes Vanrepote’s Princess and Ian Woodhouse’s Devil skip about with a choreographed abandon that’s sometimes too busy for what’s being delivered.

Beyond commenting on the relationship between war and money, the music is the star here. The arrangements scored for violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone and percussion are evocatively and exquisitely delivered in a portable chamber piece that never quite transcends the restraints of its form.

The Herald, November 19th 2007

ends

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