Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Kreutzer Sonata - The Gate Theatre, London

The Kreutzer Sonata By Leo Tolstoy
Adaptor: Nancy Harris
Director: Natalie Abrahami
Reviewer: Becky Middleton

Leo Tolstoy died without ever having seen his play illuminated on stage, so one wonders whether he would have approved of this adaptation. But how could he not.

Set in a standard railway carriage in 1889, the action of the play centres on the monologue delivery of Pozdynyshev, played excellently by Hilton McRae. At first the carriage appears bland, but it soon becomes apparent that the minimalism of the set is the perfect backdrop to illuminate the genius and passion in Tolstoy’s words. Delivered with fervour and an engaging depth, it is easy to become consumed by the tale of love, jealousy, revenge and music.

The title, The Kreutzer Sonata, pays homage to the Beethoven piece of the same name. In the script, music itself is used as an evil entity, blamed for the intensity with which the protagonists’ wife and her lover develop their relationship under the glare of the husband’s suspicion and jealousy. The music, her a pianist and him a violinist, gives the accused lovers a shared interest, a skill to unite them. The effectiveness in which the music itself is played live on stage reveals the tenderness in the characters’ emerging sexual relationship; Pozdynyshev’s hatred of it provides a welcome catalyst that encourages the pair.

The Kreutzer Sonata was understandably banned by The Russian Authorities in the late nineteenth century, when the facade of domestic bliss was paramount.

Excellently portrayed by McRae, Pozdynyshev reveals his inner jealous rages backed by Beethoven’s crashing crescendos. And it works. The volume of the soundtrack, the parts not played live, is effective in creating an intensity of emotion, binding the score into the plot so the two are entwined.

The Gate Theatre in Notting Hill is small yet atmospheric in its diminutive form. The intensity of McRae’s story-telling would not have seemed so emotive and engaging in a larger venue. The powerful use of music and monologue draws the audience into the emotional intensity of a husband cuckolded, a lover caught and a wife punished.
Runs until Sat 5th Dec
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