The Kreutzer Sonata Gate Theatre 07 November 2009

***

To start at the beginning:  there are three Kreutzer Sonatas–a sonata for violin and piano by Beethoven; a novella by Tolstoy where a performance of Beethoven’s sonata plays an important role; and a string quartet by Janacek that attempts to put Tolstoy’s work (back) into music.

And here we had a stage adaptation of Tolstoy.  The set comprised two railway-type seats facing each other across a table, while a screen in the background could be a window or a screen to show projected images or it could reveal the other two characters in the space behind.

As Pozdnyshev, Hilton McRae addressed the audience from his side of the stage (gradually moving over to the other) and told the story of how he had been a sexually dissolute young man who then got married because he thought he was in love; how Trukhachevsky, an old and violin-playing acquaintance had called on him and how he had ended up playing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata in a musical evening with Poznyshev”s wife; how he had been jealous and returned unexpectedly from a business trip to find them together; how he had killed his wife and finally been acquitted by a court; how music was bad.  This accompanied by music behind the screen and images projected on the screen.

So compared to Tolstoy’s novella a great deal was `omitted, as is hardly surprising.  Tolstoy’s Pozdnyshev wears Russian rather than European clothing beneath his overcoat and occasionally emits strange sounds, like clearing the throat or a laugh begun and broken off.   So he is a broken man, and consequently Tolstoy’s Pozdnyshev–the fornicator and murderer–is a Christlike figure.

Hilton McRae certainly wasn’t any of this here–but he had difficulty in pronouncing the name of Trukhachevsky the adulterous violinist, which could easily have been changed to something more convenient.  (Trukhachevsy ~ Trashy which tells us all we need to know about him, while Pozdnyshev ~ Late–he realises things too late).

So of course we didn’t have any of the discussion of sexal mores with the merchants and the ‘advanced’ lady putting their opposing views.  Nor did the impossibilist view that Tolstoy correctly ascribes to Jesus–that sex is inherently a bad thing and we should refrain from it to reach the Kingdom of Heaven–receive an airing.

This Pozdnyshev did not come to the conclusion that between him and his wife sex and anger are two manifestations of the same animal feeling.  And instead of the striking refractory characterisation of Trukhachevsky the musician,

He played splendidly, and he had in the highest degree what they call tone.  Apart from that, a refined, noble taste, quite uncharacteristic of his character.

here he just called the violin ‘squeaky’.

So this was just a bourgeois horror-show in the manner of  Zola or even ‘Arden of Faversham’, but I did begin to be gripped when the pair behind the curtain actually got to play part of the Kreutzer Sonata and Pozdnyshev described how he killed his wife.  But here we missed both Pozdnyshev’s hypertrophied sensitivity to music

After [the first] presto they played out the beautiful, but usual–not new–andante with the vulgar variations and the decidedly weak finale.

or the most distressing details of the murder

She grabbed at the dagger with her hands, and cut them, but was not able to hold it back.

But all of this, along with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, is obviusly too hard for the Notting Hill audience.  Still, the third or so of Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata that survived is still something, especially with the added portion of Beethoven’s.

What’s more, there’s a 2-for-1 ticket offer here.

 

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