Inside Wagner's Head is really an uninterrupted 100-minute lecture by the engaging Simon Callow on the complexities of the much-debated German composer.
Giving Hitler (and Mad King Ludvig)'s hero the ‘Callow treatment' previously visited on Dickens and Shakespeare, the actor has given himself a rather more difficult task given the lack of characters to assume and lines to quote. But, assisted by Theatre Royal Plymouth's artistic director Simon Stokes, he still makes it riveting.
Moving around a stage strewn with objects such as bird cages, a doll's house, a ship, a tailor's dummy, an anvil and a Norse helmet (of course), the life and times of the complicated and tortured genius are relayed conversationally by the charismatic Callow. But other than Wagner suffering from the terminal disease of being Wagner, I am not so sure we really got to understand anything the psyche of the man but that did not detract from the interest.
And to keep the audience's attention, the gigantic stone head of Wagner projected onto the backcloth dissolves into dream-like scenes and psychedelic swirlings thanks to the video designs of Robin Don.
Commissioned by the Royal Opera House's director in an effort to bring new audiences to Wagner's work in the 200th anniversary year of his birth, the ROH and Theatre Royal Plymouth co-production is a good introduction to the man but perhaps we could do with a tad more of his music.
- Karen Bussell