REVIEW: The Kreutzer Sonata (Arcola Theatre) ★★★★

thumbnail_The Kreutzer Sonata 5 Greg Hicks Photo Ciaran DowdBanned in Russia and the United States right after its publication, The Kreutzer Sonata is a late work by Leo Tolstoy dissecting the roles of sex and marriage in society on a personal and universal level. A man on a train shares his memories and confesses to a shocking crime, which he blames on Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata”. Following a critically acclaimed run at the Theatre Chipping-Norton, John Terry’s production starring Greg Hicks now transfers to the Arcola Theatre.

During a lengthy train journey, Pozdnychev, a Russian civil servant, tells his captive audience about his frivolous sex life before he fell in love with his wife – “a soft-eyed girl” who later turned into “Medusa” – and became trapped in a hellish marriage. Eight years and five children later, his wife begins to focus her passion on music, playing duets with Pozdnychev’s attractive childhood friend Troukhatchevsky. Pozdnychev’s exclusion from the harmonious twosome soon leads to mounting suspicion and jealousy. Like Othello he is irritated by every minor gesture, sensing the ultimate betrayal by his music loving wife.

Greg Hicks absolutely owns the part of the tormented Pozdnychev. Mostly seated on a black, worn bench he tells his horrid tale, revealing his misogyny in his numerous encounters with easy women although he has now come to see sexuality as an evil that enslaves both men and women in equal measure: “Women will never be equal until they are free of man’s desire.” Only complete abstinence can lead so salvation. Torn between guilt and the conviction that he did not have a choice, Hicks conveys paranoia and the one-track mind of a fanatic.

Nancy Harris’ compelling stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s novella is sensitively directed by John Terry and accompanied by Alice Pinto (piano) and Philip Granell (violin) playing Harry Sever’s composition which is strongly influenced by Beethoven’s “Kreutzer Sonata”, reflecting and accentuating Poydnzchev’s increasing jealousy and paranoia that culminates in his heinous crime.

Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Ciaran Dowd

The Kreutzer Sonata is playing at the Arcola until 23rd July 2016