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The Kreutzer Sonata

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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It is two years since Nancy Harris's riveting adaptation of Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata premiered at the Gate. Now the play returns with the same cast and creative team in advance of a transfer across the pond for a run at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York. It will assuredly impress as many people this time round as it did on its first outing.

Our protagonist, a respectable-looking and initially personable middle-aged gentleman, is on a train journey, but where to, we do not know. He begins to speak, telling first of the imminent arrival in town of a famous violinist before segueing onto the subject of brothels, and finally settling on the story of how he proposed to his wife. This trio of topics – music, sex and the desire to possess and control an object of love – all three foregrounded in the first minute of the drama, are the central concerns of Harris's play, the story of a crime apparently motivated by music.

Hilton McRae gives a compelling performance as Pozdynyshev, the anti-hero of Tolstoy's 1889 novella, drip-feeding us clues about the character's psychopathic nature and misogynist tendencies. Harris handles the pacing of the story beautifully, ensuring that we are kept almost mesmerised by Pozdynyshev's confession throughout.

Adding to the rich atmosphere is the music that underscores much of the piece. Sophie Scott and Tobias Beer play Pozdynyshev's unnamed wife and Trukhackhevski, the man with whom he believes she is having an affair. The only evidence of their supposed romance is the passionate music they create together, she on piano, he on violin and it is this that haunts Pozdynyshev. The music itself is a wonderful touch that elevates the play from the ranks of standard monologue drama, but the frequency with which Scott and Beer are revealed behind a scrim, as it were in flashback, is overly literal and ultimately distracting.

That flaw aside, sensitive direction by Natalie Abrahami and effective set and sound design by Chloe Lamford and Carolyn Downing respectively, combined with Harris's strong storytelling and McRae's nuanced portrayal, ensure that The Kreutzer Sonata offers a very satisfying theatre experience indeed.


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