The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy (Ad. Nancy Harris) at The Arcola Theatre


Banned in Russia and America when it was first published, Tolstoy’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ made a return to London at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. Adapted by Nancy Harris, Greg Hicks takes the main role in this one man play of confession, marriage, and music.

A man sits alone in a train carriage and slowly recounts the life he had up until that point. He talks about growing up, meeting his wife and his marriage, and then the arrival at his house of an old school friend Trukhachevski, a talented violinist. The seeming relationship which develops between the wife and Trukhachevski induces an all-consuming jealousy in the husband,Pozdynyshev, and provokes a terrible crime. The narrative of the play examines our often conflicting fundamental instincts against a backdrop of music in this case, Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’. The sonata is played at a recital by the wife and Trukhachevski. The protagonist is transported beyond the baser human impulses feeding his jealousy to a place of paradox. There he is transformed by the power of the music itself whilst realising that he is excluded from the power of the music’s creation by the two performers.

Simply staged in the Arcola theatre, the three-sided audience space was challenging for a single actor but Greg Hicks did his best with this set up. Breaking from the convention of the script, the two musicians, a brilliant Alice Pinto and Phillip Grannell, came in with moments of music throughout the piece whenever Pozdynyshev referred to it. This was very effective in reinforcing the centrality of music to the drama. Two metallic strips hung above the stage  and extended outwards diagonally defining the space. Different bulbs with low lighting filaments hung above the audience and the piano giving off the glow of candles.

At times the lighting did a fraction too much for us, emphasising a change of tone for Pozdynyshev which we feel could have been achieved alone by the actor. Greg himself, gave a noble portrayal of the old Russian but sometimes the tone of his voice felt modern and out of place in this play written in 1889. However in portraying a man recounting his darkest secrets and the effect that they had had on him, his characterisation was spot on and he single handedly brought this story rivetingly to life.

As a whole, this production was extremely good and definitely worth seeing.

Highlight of the piece – Greg directing a line about a whore to women whose phone was going off in the front row.

WIGS 4/5


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