The Soldier’s Tale

The Soldier’s Tale

Narrator – Walter van Dyk
Princess – Helen Anher
Devil – Iain Woodhouse
Soldier – Anthony Marwood

Lawrence Evans – Director, designer, staging

Academy of St Martin in the Fields:
Martin Burgess (violin)
Paul Marrion (double bass)
Julian Farrell (clarinet)
Graham Sheen (bassoon)
William Houghton (trumpet)
Katy Pryce (trombone)
Tristan Fry (percussion)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 2 July, 2005
Venue: Wilton’s Music Hall, London

In an 11-venue tour emulating Stravinsky and his collaborator’s original plan to compose a work that could easily be toured, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields have teamed up with violinist, now actor and dancer Anthony Marwood and taken up Walter van Dyk’s company production of “The Soldier’s Tale”.

Having started at the Aldeburgh Festival and taken in two other festivals (Marwood’s own Florestan Festival at Peasmarsh and the North Devon Festival) in its criss-crossing of the nation, “The Soldier’s Tale now arrives in the historical gem (if rough-and-ready before much needed restoration funding is confirmed) that is Wilton’s Music Hall off Cable Street, as part of the City of London Festival.

Neatly squeezed onto the raised stage with a video-screen backdrop and the bare-footed players of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields economically stowed immediately to the right of the stage, van Dyk – who narrated Michael Flanders and Kitty Black’s English translation – introduced what started off as an engaging retelling of Stravinsky and Charles Ferdinand Ramuz’s morality tale.

The intriguing hook of this production was the fact that Marwood as the soldier would play the violin rather than the music being provided by the ensemble’s violinist. Given his tall, David Niven-like looks, Marwood fitted the part like a glove, while his acting partners – Anher and Woodhouse – weaved in and out in with perhaps over-complicated choreography, although it was expert enough during Marwood’s second solo for Woodhouse to hold his score open for him! The video screen, first seen with a black and white image of encamped soldiers, is used for shadow play, and – bizarrely – a filmed segment of bare-torsoed (and bare-cheeked, while on stage he has a moustache) Marwood staring at the sky after he realises that his life has been taken from him by the devil.

Yet the story, with its acerbic score engagingly played, didn’t seem to add up to the sum of its parts. The discovery that no-one in his village recognised him because he’d been detained for three years by the devil was not quite chilling enough; the video interlude of the soldier’s desperation is not up to the quality of the rest of the ideas and, although the Soldier’s eventual defeat of the Devil at cards and his winning of the Princess’s hand is nicely done, the Devil’s ultimate success in gaining the Soldier’s life seems weak here, especially as the bare-footed band is also led off behind the video screen – for no apparent reason.A curious evening, then, although much applauded by the sold-out Wilton’s Hall audience.

  • Second performance on 4 July, Wilton’s Music Hall, City of London Festival
  • Barbican Box Office: 0845 120 7502
  • COLF
  • ASMF
  • Marwood Interview

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