In March 1820, Franz Schubert and his friends meet in a Viennese drinking-house, to celebrate art, freedom and love. Incorporating some of Schubert’s songs, Re:Sound capture the spirit, enthusiasm and rivalry of this group of young intellectuals – in a superb recreation of a climactic evening in their friendship, before their circle was torn apart.
A group of friends gather after a concert by Vogl; there is Senn the malcontent revolutionary, Mayerhofer the fatalistic poet, Schubert the genius composer and Vogl himself, the self-acclaimed master singer. Their mix of talents, interests and circumstances set up the themes that pervade the play; the eternal beauty of music versus the present need for political reform, or the transcendence of love versus the immateriality of everything in the face of death. Katharine Armitage’s original script also sets the historical scene firmly in the Romantic era, under the influence of Goethe but facing a repressive Austrian state led by Metternich. In a smart move, we become familiar with Schubert’s friends, the themes and setting all before he is coaxed into playing a song.
But once Schubert is persuaded to play, he becomes the centre of attention. We learn more about his driving forces – music and Romanticism (both small ‘r’ and big ‘R’) – and how his friends project their own desires on him, putting him under pressure, but also rewarding him with their support. There are very clever scene changes, using lighting effects and costumes to move into flashbacks, where we learn more about Schubert’s formative experiences, his past love and relationship with his father. And from a flash forward, we get warning of what is to come.
All this, and I haven’t told you about the songs yet! Throughout the play we are treated to Schubert’s Lieder, and they are continual joy. Amongst them the cast play keyboard, horn and harp, in a polished display of accomplished singing and musicianship.
Soprano Eloise Irving is superb both as Senn and as Gretchen, the Faust-quoting barmaid who brings an earthy common sense perspective to the intellectual sparring of the other characters. But really, it’s entirely unfair to single out one person, as the cast – Jonathan Ainscough as Schubert, Rebecca Lea as Mayerhofer, and Oskar McCarthy as Vogl, plus all the other parts they play – are uniformly excellent. Often in musicals the acting does not match the singing or vice versa, but that is not the case here: the ensemble playing creates a sense of camaraderie among the friends, but they subtly employ stillness when necessary to focus attention on a key character. They also audaciously embrace the drinking-house setting by involving the audience in games and a sing-a-long; there’s a risk that could disrupt the flow, but it works well, especially when they set the winner of a limerick competition to music.
My only bugbear was the anachronistic use of “pub” – as opposed to, say, “inn” or even Bierkeller – but that is pernickety in the extreme. This was a truly delightful show, and it’s such a shame it was a one off. I wish you all could have seen it.