Last night I was treated to one of the most curious little plays I have ever seen. I use the word curious as I am, admittedly, trying to determine exactly why I was so enthralled.
Nancy Harris’ adaptation of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata is, in my opinion, little short of a masterpiece. The original text explores an array of universal human emotions, ideas and instincts, and the brutal observations into the human race are wickedly accurate. Harris has stunningly reworked the classic text into a coherent one-man play and the result is quite simply splendid. The incorporation of music is seamless and compliments the progression of the story rather than simply being there for the sake of being dramatic. First premiered at The Gate in 2009, it is sure to be welcome revival to the London theatre scene.
This production of The Kreutzer Sonata centres on our only on-stage character, Pozdnyshev, played by Greg Hicks. Pozdnyshev relays a detailed, humorous and agonizing account of the relationship between himself and his wife, literally from first they meet to…well, the end, of which I would not want to spoil for you.
It is a simple enough tale. What makes this story magically engrossing lies in the manor in which it is written. Tolstoy, through Pozdnyshev, reflects poignantly on various topics like feminism, marriage, the legal system, men, the difference between woman and man, music, of which Tolstoy himself saw as a dangerous art form. This play is so current and relevant to a contemporary audience and so observationally accurate to situations within the present day that I find it genuinely astounding that it was written well over 100 years ago.
The Kreutzer Sonata is one man on stage simply telling a story. Yet the way it is told, the language used to tell it and the comparisons made between gender differentiations just make it intriguingly fascinating. We are presented with a, theoretically, highly dislikeable character, he is over opinionated, sexist and blunt yet we both empathise and willingly join our protagonist on his journey of self justification.
Hick must be given a huge amount of credit for his work. This is a hugely complex play in which to take on and he does so with delicacy, vigor and confidence. He sets out each section of the play clearly and with detailed thought. This is the first one-man/woman show that I have been to see where I have not checked my watch, which is quite an achievement for a wordy, classic lasting over an hour and a half. Hick is a master on stage and his words were delivered with a spontaneous freshness that made it feel as though each thought was brand new in that very moment; a triumphant performance.
Hick is joined on stage by pianist Alice Pinto and violinist Phillip Granell. They assist the tale by taking on vital roles within the piece without actually entering or delivering dialogue, the overall effect of the piece is stunning and mysteriously sexual.
Filled with proverbs and analogies it is hard not to be quite blown away with the concepts and notions put forward by Tolstoy in the piece. But above all that, it is adapted with skill and performed magnificently.
This piece is utterly timeless and quite simply exquisite.
The Kreutzer Sonata is playing at the Arcola theatre until 23 July 2016. For more information and tickets, see The Arcola Theatre website.
Photo: Ciaran Dowd