Up in Arms’ staging of Winterreise is a fraught and evocative slow-burner. Schubert’s song cycle, based on Wilhem Muller’s poems, is lent an unusual dimension through puppetry and animation. A figure in a sack takes front and centre of the small, darkened theatrical space. It is unveiled by director and baritone Thomas Guthrie with the commencement of the first song and is the protagonist of this Winterreise – a sallow puppet with a sad face.
Guthrie is a strong and emotive lieder singer, and there is something fascinating about the interaction and duality of puppet and puppeteer. At times the production was very reminiscent of a scene from Being John Malkovich, lending an interesting air of the surreal and unnerving to the famous source material. As expected by the bleak themes of mental breakdown, unrequited love and isolation within Muller’s poems, Winterreise does not make for a light and cheerful theatrical experience.
Guthrie gives an enervating and emotional performance. Deft and delicate guitar work by Sam Cave and truly inspired piano playing by virtuoso David Owen Norris, makes this a technically excellent production which would have been heightened and enhanced perhaps by a greater use and integration of background animation.
Winterreise is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 17 December. For more information and tickets, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.