Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Review: 'Vivaldi Meets Werther: Four Seasons' at the Bridewell Theatre, 27th August 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

Vivaldi Meets Werther: Four Seasons is a highbrow cultural mash-up: combining Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. 

But director and creator Pamela Schermann doesn't simply stage a play with a Vivaldi soundtrack, more a kind of DNA cross-pollination between the two. For example, female lead Charlotte (Alda Dizdari) is also lead violinist and communicates solely through her instrument. It's a decision that proves extremely appropriate given the misguided attentions of her would-be boyfriend Werther (Samuel Lawrence).

At this point, I have to admit ignorance on my behalf. I'm fairly familiar with The Four Seasons, if only due it to it being probably the best-known violin music in the world. However, I knew absolutely nothing about The Sorrows of Young Werther.

So, here's how it goes down. Werther is a lovelorn guy who becomes obsessed with a woman called Charlotte. His obsession grows and eventually sours as she doesn't return his affections, only for her fiance Albert to return, causing him to collapse into a miserable little pile of sadness and commit suicide. 

It's drama with powerful incel energy. In the parlance of our times we see our virgin incel meet a Stacy and develop a terminal case of oneitus. He's quickly friend-zoned and driven to despair when her Chad boyfriend turns up - taking the wimp's way out and becoming an hero. 

Though written in 1787, Werther's letters could quite easily be the moany, self-obsessed blog of a million basement-dwelling losers. Perhaps in the late 18th century Werther would have been considered some sort of hero, but in this production he comes across as, in the best-case scenario, a total loser.

All this meant that I found Vivaldi Meets Werther unexpectedly hilarious. Part of this is that the decision to make Charlotte a silent character who only communicates through her instrument completely walls her off from any real communication with Werther. For the vast majority of the show Charlotte occupies the same area as the rest of the string players, leaving Werther isolated in the centre of the stage. This renders his affection totally unreciprocated, making his love appear more delusional than it ordinarily would.

The one thing Charlotte does show any feelings for is her instrument, with Dizdari dancing, smiling and cradling it like a newborn. Even the one direct interaction she has with Werther, where she makes him kiss a canary and then feeds it seed from her mouth, sounds like she's making fun of him in a roundabout way. It all combines to make the guy an inherently unsympathetic character, and by the time he's offing himself you sense that nothing of value will be lost.

The choice of The Four Seasons to accompany Werther's misery quickly feels more than a touch sadistic, given that they're joyful music focussed on vitality, community and the harmony of nature. But Werther just doesn't get it, ignoring the world and its delights to lose himself in a mostly imagined version of a woman who doesn't give a crap about him.

It makes Vivaldi Meets Werther a wickedly good time. The music is performed with precision, energy and passion - with Dizdari a brilliant performer and violinist. And Samuel Lawrence is a comically useless sadsack who it's difficult to feel sorry for. 

Vivaldi Meets Werther: Four Seasons is at the Bridewell Theatre as part of Opera in the City Festival 2019 until 30th August. Tickets here.

Photos by Time Zone Theatre

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