Recent productions by the music theatre group Re:Sound have promisingly taken place in pubs. Appropriately, the two last shows of theirs I’ve seen have centred on historical composers who spent time in bars, taverns, cafés. After Party, a year or two ago, taught me a few things about Schubert and his circle, leaving the vivid impression that in Vienna, most people’s accommodation was so cramped and mean that the tavern was the only place to go. And it deftly explained why Schubert, of all people, suffered the attentions of the censor and the threat of arrest, in the nervous political climate of post-Napoleonic Vienna.
This month, writer Katharine Armitage turned attention to the life of the Schumanns, Robert and Clara. The recently-excavated Cocktail Bar at Wilton’s Music Hall made a good home for Duet, which focused particularly on the young couple’s early married life, so soon moving into troubled territory. Oskar McCarthy’s portrayal of Robert’s increasing anxiety (which would one day culminate in suicidal actions) was touching and believable. The play also reminded us about another genuine source of anxiety for the young couple – the outburst of revolution in their new home town of Dresden, chosen for its quietness.
I’ve much enjoyed the performances by this talented group, which incorporate theatre, singing and even instrumentals – at one point rather surrealistically, ‘Robert Schumann’ seized a French horn and started to play, very creditably. With a cast of only four (who all had to accompany themselves on piano in some complicated Lieder) there was much character doubling to facilitate appearances by ‘Felix Mendelssohn’, ‘Johannes Brahms’ et al. So often pub/bar/foyer performances are a noisy, falsely jolly afterthought on the part of venues and festivals; but in these hands, the effect was involving and thought-provoking.