The Little Mermaid undone.
Presented in The Beethoven Room with its expectations of a concert, Undine is listed as Theatre; professing to be a ‘theatrical’ blend of concert, and storytelling, with multi-media – which actually is just illustrative slides.
The show is full of text, read indulgently by flautist Tatiana Thaele, occasionally underscored by interpretative piano responses from Yohan Chun, interspersed by the interludes of the highly accomplished musical component (composed by Carl Reinecke).
The music was beautiful. It would have been enough.
Undine is an early 19th Century German Romantic fairy-tale novella, by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, in which Undine, a water spirit, enamors a knight named Huldebrand who marries her, gaining her a soul. The novella inspired adaptions in various genres and traditions (opera and verse), and now once again has been revisited.
Despite some Gothic creepiness in the story, it was apparently well-loved by children. Some weirdnesses include the narrative fact that after her wedding night the previously mercurial, moody, impish, mischievous, willful and tantrum-throwing, but, obviously exquisitely beautiful Undine becomes gentle of nature and compliant. There’s more: after their wedding they both return to his home, where they connect with his former fiancée, who leaves with them both to go and live in a castle further up the Danube, in some rather unsettled ménage à trois, in which the Knight is perpetually confused about who he really loves. Undine is understandably quite miserable, and the supernatural complications caused by her water-spirit uncle, of course, turn events into a terribly sad ending.
However, the story isn’t what is at issue here. The central problem is the show is ill-conceived. If conceptualized as theatre, it is in dire need of a director, who would turn make the necessary adjustments to both performance and staging – the over-sentimental reading, I mean, literal reading, of the text by Thaele could be replaced by a performance of it, and the projected images could be reworked. It could be reconceptualised and made into something visually and dramatically engaging. As a piece of theatre.
But, actually, what it should be is a concert. Just play the music. We don’t need the rest.
A most surreal element was provided quite by accident. A questionnaire was handed out to the audience as we arrived, by a woman was standing at the door with a Tupperware full of stubs of pencils in the quest for some research into storytelling, I think. The audience was mainly a group of Grade 7 block booking, with their two teachers. About half way through the show, as the burdensome text made the girls restless, they started filling in the forms. The soundtrack of the water-spirit’s story became layered with the rustling of paper, and the occasional dropped end of a pencil.
This was rather entertaining.
Last show tomorrow. Book HERE.
Director: Tatiana Thaele
Script: Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué adapted by Tatiana Thaele
Performers: Tatiana Thaele and Yohan Chun
Composition: Carl Reinecke