War & Peace

Posted on: 22 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Tolstoy's epic comes to the stage in this engaging play.

Love and loss, happiness and grief and life and mortality are the themes explored by Tolstoy in his monumental work which Shared Experience bring to the stage in a thrilling new two-part production adapted by Helen Edmundson and directed by Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale.

The play begins in the Hermitage Museum in present day Russie with a guide showing a tourist important pictures from the country's history. Then all of a sudden the past becomes the present as we are transported back in time to the 19th century and we get to relive the turbulent events depicted.

The story itself intertwines its account of Napoleon's invasion of Russia with the lives and fortunes of three aristocratic families. The main protagonists are the heroic Andrei, whose first wife dies in childbirth, Natasha, daughter of Count and Countess Rostov, who is full of hope and joie de vivre and whom Andrei later marries, and the somewhat embittered landowner Pierre Bezukhov who ends up a radical, ready to embrace the tide of change that was to sweep the country with the Revolution.

Originally staged at the National Theatre in 1996, this new production has lost none of its power or passion.

Painted on a vast canvas of locations, characters and experiences, this stirring saga of families, love and friendship against a background of war brilliantly combines the epic with the intimate. With the aid of a handful of props - mirrors are used most imaginatively - the company manages to convey the harsh reality of battle equally well as the more tender and revealing human drama in what is undoubtedly one of the most visually arresting productions of the year.

Furthermore the production poses some pertinent questions such as, is it ever right for one person to impose his or her will on others? How can we reconcile ourselves to what is happening around us if we feel injustice is being done? If we decide to take action how can we judge whether it is for the best? And even, when movements start in the name of freedom, are they doomed to become corrupt in the struggle to sustain themselves? These are the dilemmas the play confronts and examines, dilemmas which seem as relevant today as they were over 100 years ago.

Directors Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale manage to extract excellent performanoes from their hard working ensemble, especially Barnaby Kay as Pierre, Geoffrey Beevers as Count Rostav, Marion Bailey as Countess Rostov/Anna Pavolva, Louise Ford as their daughter Natasha and David Stursaker as Andrei.

If ever a company lived up to its name then Shared Experience certainly do in completely involving its audience in this six-hour theatrical marathon that can be seen either on one whole day or over two evenings. Miss it at your peril!

On tour around the UK.

Laurence Green

Booking Information

Box office: 020 7722 9301 or: www.sharedexperience.org.uk

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