“The Kreutzer Sonata” at the Gate Theatre

Having broken box office records a couple of years ago, the Kreutzer Sonata’s return to the Gate Theatre gives us the chance to take an extraordinary journey once again. Designer Chloe Lamford transforms the auditorium of the Gate Theatre into the inside of a railway carriage, her clever set further condensing an already intimate space. We are about to travel with a quiet unassuming man sitting in the carriage corner.

The man is Pozdnyshev, who will reveal to us the story of his marriage and how he came to murder his wife. While hardly charming, his frankness endears him to us – he seems honest, albeit disturbed. As his jealousy and the play’s tension mount, his irrational fears begin to seem understandable – trapped in a loveless relationship, his musical wife is attracted to a violinist. Pozdnyshev becomes the victim of his own rage but believes his actions to be entirely understandable.

Pozdnyshev’s unsettling position is grippingly portrayed in Hilton McRae’s quietly nuanced performance. Considered and philosophical, what really pains him is what he views as the inevitability of events. Most impressively, McRae has the stage presence to hold our attention during this 85-minute monologue. His wife and her lover, played by Sophie Scott and Tobias Beer, make music and appear through screens on the carriage doors.

Nancy Harris handles the adaptation and translation of this short story from Tolstoy with great skill. Highlighting the narrative increases the drama and does away with the (to be frank) rather madder elements of Tolstoy’s philosophy. The misogyny is still present but just more believable – a question of character development rather than political creed.

A live performance of parts of the sonata accompanies the piece, focusing attention on the relationship between music and passion: a preoccupation for Tolstoy as an aesthetician. It also serves as a potent dramatic device, as the musicians present directly to the audience the turmoil of emotions that haunt Pozdnyshev. It’s stirring stuff. In fact, this is a train not to be missed, so get your ticket soon as I suspect many who have already seen it will be buying a return ticket.

Until 18 February 2012

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Simon Kane

Written 12 January 2012 for The London Magazine

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