Chipping Norton.

by Leo Tolstoy adapted by Nancy Harris.

The Theatre 2 Spring Street OX7 5NL To 26 September 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat 26 Sept 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.

TICKETS: 01608 642350.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 September.

Precision direction and performance make for a smooth ride over bumpy emotional territory.
Along the road, Chipping Norton’s Mop Fair packs the market square, its skyline dominated by the Booster’s long arm lifting couples on high then sweeping them down, adding, as the speed increases, 360-degree whirls.

Tossed upside down while high in the sky, and again while zooming earthwards, it seems the opposite of the quietly-told tale Leo Tolstoy’s Pozdnyshev tells a fellow traveller during a sedate train-ride in Nancy Harris’s adaptation of the great Russian’s novella.

Yet within the apparently tranquil recollection there’s an emotional rollercoaster. As a concert brings crowds from all around, Podnyshev recounts the crescendo of disharmony leading to murder during a private performance of Beethoven’s violin and piano ‘Kreutzer’ sonata. As John Donne described in his poem ‘The Triple Fool’ almost 300 years earlier, the emotion controlled by words is let loose again in music.

Unwinding suspicions about his wife and her violin-playing lover are accompanied at first by whips of barely-heard music, its players hardly perceived in the dark background. As the murder approaches, the musicians become more visible, playing Beethoven’s emotional surges in full light, before fading as the story moves into reflection.

On Chipping Norton’s stage, John Terry’s production is less specific about the rail environment than Natalie Abraham’s 2009/2012 Gate production. Wife and lover are constantly present in the husband’s mind, part of the mental luggage lurking in the dark background. But the vital difference lies in the casting.

At the Gate Hilton McRae was a complacent bourgeois recalling an unfortunate incident, past and punished. Out in the Cotswolds, Greg Hicks – who could give a sheepdog the urgency of a pack of hounds – creates a contained intensity, even in later moments of analytical uncertainty.

The past is always present for his Pozdnyshev, turmoil recreated as he speaks, every detail riveting an audience who seem individually addressed, compelled and appalled by a veil of sanity concealing, yet implicitly revealing, fearful jealousy.

The musicians are important, but in acting terms this is a one-man show. It runs a week more. And it could be the performance, possibly the production, of the English theatre’s year.

Pozdnyshev: Greg Hicks.
Piano: Hannah Watson.
Violin: Justin Wilman.

Director: John Terry.
Designer: Alex Berry.
Lighting; Alex Stafford.
Composer/Musical Director: Harry Sever.
Assistant director: Bronagh Lagan.

2015-09-20 14:11:37

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