by Leo Tolstoy adapted by Nancy Harris.

Gate Theatre above Prince Albert pub 11 Pembridge Road Notting Hill W11 3HQ To 19 December 2009.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.

revived at The Gate to 18 February 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 28 Jan 3pm.
Captioned 7 Feb.
Post-show Discussion 17 Jan, 7 Feb.

TICKETS: 020 7229 0706.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 November.

Chamber play with chamber music.

If you’re going to dramatise fiction, short stories can be a good source. Rarely, though, has story, adaptation and production been in such complete harmony as with Gate co-Artistic Director Natalie Abrahami’s production of this Leo Tolstoy tale in Nancy Harris’s controlled yet powerful script.

Forget the Tolstoy of War and Peace, or even Anna Karenina, with its unhappy marriage focus. This is small-scale yet intense, masculine complacency under pressure; A Doll’s House from the other side of the sexual divide.

Chloe Lamford’s railway-carriage setting gives a sense of privacy alongside the roomy luxury of solo travel, while Hilton McRae finds an apt tone as Pozdynyshev, bourgeois reasonableness expressed in conversational tone through which there emerges a man-of-the-world casualness about sex (it’s what young men do) followed by the jealous suspicion and hurt pride over his wife’s relationship with his old friend.

This tone is the more striking because his recollections culminate in crime and punishment, and a passion at odds with the steady rhythm of the train throughout Carolyn Downing’s soundscape. Contrasting this steadiness, and the destructive feelings, are parts of the titular Beethoven Sonata for violin and piano.

As the story proceeds, visions of the unnamed, piano-playing Wife and violinist friend appear as images through the generalised colouring of the carriage windows. Distant yet immediate in the traveller’s mind, they grow from initial brief glimpses to more sustained images, where Beethoven’s music punctuates, points-up or counterpoints Pozdynyshev’s memories.

It’s important the playing’s live, adding an immediacy equal to the surface control of much of the verbal account. The chamber-music partnership, the violinist’s energy and the pianist’s seated control, create a mutual sympathy that excludes the self-confessedly unmusical husband.

Amid the overall development the script contains minor details such as lead to suppressed fury, exaggerated by jealous suspicion in the isolation created within a marriage based on sexual desire without human compatibility.

Harris’s script, Abrahami’s direction, production elements and McRae’s performance sustain a tension and at times unnerving calm until the sociable manner and narrative control are noticeably disrupted by the force of the images in the storyteller’s head.

Pozdynyshev: Hilton McRae.
Trukhachevski: Tobias Beer.
Wife: Sophie Scott.

Director: Natalie Abrahami.
Designer: Chloe Lamford.
Lighting: Mark Howland.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Musical Director: Tom Mills.
Film: Dan Stafford-Clark.
Projection: Ian William Galloway.
Movement: Kate Flatt.
Assistant director: Andrea Ferran.

2012-01-12 08:00:03

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