Left - Mark Winter, Bonnie Paskas and Fabian Russell. Cover - Mark Winter and Bonnie Paskas
Gunfire leads us in, pounding, intermittent and whizzing overhead. Suddenly there is a reverberating explosion, then the sound of the wind humming, and then the sight of the devil sitting comfortably in the middle of it all. So begins The Hayloft Project’s interpretation of The Soldier’s Tale.
In 1918, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky and writer Charles Ferdinand Ramuz collaborated to create The Soldier’s Tale, a compendious, travelling production incorporating music, theatre and dance. The Soldier’s Tale begins with the orchestra playing The Soldier’s March. Rhythmic, wily and acrobatic, The Soldier’s Tale was scored for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, percussion, violin and double bass. As the first piece of the The Soldier’s Tale, The Soldier’s March, oscillates between triumph and mockery while the devil introduces Joseph, a soldier on leave from his duty at the war.
Originally adapted from the collected fairy tales of Alexander Afanasiev, The Soldier’s Tale tells the story of a soldier who deserts the army and trades his violin to the devil in return for a book containing all the “secrets of wealth untold”. However, the trade is rigged, and in trading away his violin, Joseph in fact relinquishes his soul. To reinforce his conquest, the devil convinces the exhausted soldier to stay on with him. “What’s three more days, after an eternity away?” he implores, promising Joseph long-awaited rest and the chance to forget the horrors of war. After a ride in the Devil’s magical carriage, Joseph learns that the three days are actually three years, and he is shunned as a deserter and taken for a ghost. It is this ill-fated bargain, and the soldier’s quest to reclaim his soul which propels the theatre, music and dance of The Soldier’s Tale.
Writer Simon Stone’s rendering of The Soldier’s Tale is a psychologically elaborate adaptation of the original. The temptations which ensnare Joseph are empathetically presented to the audience. Departing from traditional translations of The Soldier’s Tale, Stone dilutes the sometimes overwrought rhyming of Ramuz’s original libretto and orchestrates a sophisticated combination of narration and dialogue, using the original rhyme to limited, but dramatic effect. At times, Frank Gallacher and David Whitely as the Narrator and the Devil appear to converge upon Joseph in unison. The Hayloft Project’s interpretation of The Soldier’s Tale, presents Gallacher and Whitely’s dialogue as intersecting and overlapping, ultimately complicating and conflating the guise of the true antagonist.
Mark Winter brings a garish humanity to Joseph; at times wretched, helpless, self-loathing and dismayed, he stumbles across the stage as one “dead amongst the living”. His revelations of betrayal and loss are given credence and gravity by director Michael Robinson who protracts the usually elliptical moments of Joseph’s journey, in particular his visit to his childhood home.
Dance also has a significant presence in The Soldier’s Tale. Stravinsky’s Three Dances: Tango, Valse, Ragtime are memorably translated into movement by the Princess, played by Bonnie Paskas, who contorts around Joseph, collapsing and entwining herself around him in a scene where both characters are brought to life by the discovery of their love.
The Soldier’s Tale is not merely a story about a soldier who abandons his military obligations. It is also a story about the quest to reclaim what matters most, and the impossibility of possessing the future while holding steadfast to the past.
The Hayloft Project # 03
The Soldier's Tale
By Igor Stravinsky and C.F.Ramuz
Where: The Abbotsford Convent, Sacred Heart Chapel | St. Helier's St, Collingwood
Dates: 30 April – 10 May
Times: Wed - Sat 8pm
Bookings: 0435 165 117