It’s certainly a bold move to re-compose a classic like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. To even attempt it requires a certain level of confidence in your vision. But Max Richter’s minimalist re-imagining of the legendary concerti is well established as a striking and forthright take which rivals Vivaldi’s original work for its emotional depth.
With the vivid imagery at play in Vivaldi’s work and themes of birth, life and death, then distilled into their purest essence by Richter, the recomposition provides the perfect backdrop and inspiration for vivid drama. And here this is done to incredible effect by the master puppeteers of Gyre and Gimble.
I’m not really qualified to comment on puppetry since the last puppet show I saw was probably Punch and Judy. In fact that might explain why I don’t see puppets more often. But this was fortunately closer to Being John Malkovich than those creepy perpetrators of domestic violence.
I was totally awed by the incredible expressiveness of the puppets, even without sausage-based violence. Essentially a family of blank artists’ mannequins, the minimal props and basic staging invoke all kinds of images from war to natural disaster.
There are three androgynous forms who are the nuclear family of this production which take us through the cycle of life to often incredibly sad effect. In this sense it’s similar to last year’s The Red Turtle from Studio Ghibli, so it’s unsurprising that the performance is inspired by traditional Japanese Bunraku puppet theatre.
The performance was set against the stunning architecture and interior design of Wanamaker Theatre at Shakespeare’s Globe. The candlelit performance blends with its surroundings, and the traditional string ensemble, complete with harpsichord, began the performance with a prelude of original Vivaldi works to set the scene. The acoustic setting allows us to focus on the details of the movement and densely layered music.
The musicians and score are of such quality that it would be enjoyable by itself, but combined with masterful puppetry it creates a moving sensory experience. Highly emotive and often desperately sad, this performance is at least twice as good as Punch and Judy, and three times as good as Richard and Judy.