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Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – A Reimagining review at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – ‘beautiful and engrossing’

Scene from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons A Reimagining at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Imagine. That’s basically the edict of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, with its candlelit lack of modern technology. The best shows in the space steer into this willed contract between stage and audience, capitalising on its intimacy. This mashup of puppetry and Max Richter’s 2011 re-composition of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons does just that.

Co-directors Finn Caldwell and Toby Olie, from puppetry theatre company Gyre and Gimble, have fused the Japanese form of Bunraku (performers in black on stage with the puppets they operate) with Richter’s score, drawing inspiration from the tone of the latter for their scenes.

Bill Barclay, director of music at Shakespeare’s Globe, has skilfully re-arranged Richter’s multi-instrument expansion of Vivaldi’s violin concertos for just six players sat in the galley above the stage. They reproduce Richter’s fluid melding of classical times and modern. The effect is dynamic and mournful.

The wooden puppets have a rough-hewn, unfinished look – constant reminders of their nearness to nature. Their movements are beautifully nuanced, as they move around the pieces of Paul Wills’ circular set, which the performers constantly move into new configurations.

The piece dissolves between courtship, a child’s first steps, a wrenching separation and tragedy. There’s the shape of a narrative, if you want to look for it, but this dance through the seasons of a life is more lyrical than literal.

A few scenes drift, but this production is spellbinding in its simplicity and for the breadth of its emotional canvas. Anchored by the heartbeat of Vivaldi via Richter, this is a creatively nimble, deeply moving experience.

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All of life is on stage in this beautiful and engrossing mix of puppetry and music