The Gospel According to St Robert ; MUSICAL: The Theatrical Visionary Robert Wilson Takes a Surreal Trip into the Spiritual Wilderness

By Cripps, Charlotte | The Independent (London, England), August 26, 2003 | Go to article overview
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The Gospel According to St Robert ; MUSICAL: The Theatrical Visionary Robert Wilson Takes a Surreal Trip into the Spiritual Wilderness


Cripps, Charlotte, The Independent (London, England)


A leading light in experimental theatre, Robert Wilson has broken the mould yet again with his latest venture, The Temptation of St Anthony. Drawing in part on Bunuel's 1965 Simon of the Desert, which takes a different saint on a similarly surreal trip, Wilson's moralist fable-come-musical sees a hapless St Anthony enduring a series of temptations laid before him by a comely seducer, before the action abruptly shifts to outer space, where he is taken on a whirlwind tour of competing religious and philosophical beliefs.

Wilson's main inspiration was Gustave Flaubert's 1874 novel, The Temptation of St Anthony; he has been wondering how to translate it visually for almost 30 years: "I have tried to relate the text to today, without disrespecting Flaubert's [original text]. It's a case of always trying to respect a master, but not wanting to become a slave," he says. This modernisation entails some leavening of the plot's weighty themes by moments of humour, and a populist score. Another contemporary touch sees the hermit, traditionally tested by lust in female form (the Queen of Sheba) resisting a tempting Adonis figure.

Wilson, who is reshaping the production for Sadler's Wells (with Carl Hancock Rux as Anthony), is best known for Einstein On The Beach and Hamletmachine. However, he has also brought his strong visual sense to many traditional operas, including The Magic Flute and Madame Butterfly (Wilson is also a visual artist). Temptation has the same dramatic look and colourful costumes - "like Matisse," Wilson says.

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