Theatre review: The Kreutzer Sonata

Posted on: 17 November 2009 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews the riveting new production at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hll.

A man driven by insane jealousy to an act of murder is the protagonist of the riveting new production of The Kreutzer Sonata (Gate Theatre, Notting Hill), adapted from Tolstoy’s 1889 novella by Nancy Harris and directed by Natalie Abrahami.

A well dressed but evidently troubled middle-aged man, Pozdynyshev, boards a train and in the confined space of the carriage potent memories are triggered. Soon he is confessing to a terrible crime, one for which he holds Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata responsible. “I am not a music lover”, he declares, and soon enough we find out why.

It all started when his wife began to play the piano after the birth of their fifth child. She became involved with a violinist friend of Pozdynyshev, and together they played the above mentioned sonata, and the emotion of the piece was the spark which kindled their affair. “I wanted to kill him on sight”, Pozdynyshev recalls, and this obsession leads him to kill the person he most loves in the world.

Tolstoy’s late 19th century novella became instantly notorious when first published and was banned in both Russia and America due to its attack on the very idea of carnality, and Nancy Harris’ intense and intelligent production marvellously conveys the power of Tolstoy’s original. Tolstoy had hoped one day to see it performed to the accompaniment of live music and in this adaptation the music and Pozdynyshev’s monologue come together to bring the story to life on stage. The music itself is performed behind a gause screen by Sophie Scott (who also doubles as his wife) and Tobias Beer (who also plays her lover) and we can fully understand how this made such an impression on him.

It is easy for what is essentially a long monologue to become dull and repetitive but Hilton McRae’s excellent performance as the tormented Psdynyshev, at first quiet, then impassioned, gets right under the skin of the character, and ensures we remain gripped throughout this 85 minute play.

Further praise must be given to Chloe Lamford’s atmospheric set of dimly lit carriage on a night train and Ian William Galloway’s fleeting projections of Pozdynyshev’s wife as it vividly conjured up from memory.

By Laurence Green

Where: Gate Theatre, Notting Hill.

When: plays until 5 December.

Box Office: 020 7229 0706.

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