There’s nothing worse than being stuck next to the nutter on the bus or the oddly-strange train passenger who latches onto you and proceeds to tell you their whole life story. Thank god you won’t ever encounter a man called Pozdnyshev.
You won’t of course, because he’s a fictional character in Leo Tolstoy’s quite racy novella, The Kreutzer Sonata, that is now a pitch-perfect one-man play at London’s Arcola Theatre.
It’s hard to believe the story was written more than 130 years ago but perhaps Nancy Harris’s adaptation has something to do with its very modern feel.
The language and John Terry’s pared back direction gives the illusion that this is bang up-to-date with only Hicks’ costume giving the game away.
Either way you will be drawn in to hang on every word, every grimace and facial contortion, every nervous wringing of the hands and picking of the fingernails, every revolting, shocking comment in Greg Hick’s engrossing performance.
It has to be said, you won’t like Pozdnyshev. He’s not very nice man. Vain, selfish, a misogynist, arrogant, abusive, violent, volatile and most of all, consumed by jealousy. Pozdnyshev really isn’t someone you’d take to in a hurry despite a superficial air of respectability.
The Kreutzer Sonata is a strange beast that sees an unholy alliance between Tolstoy’s words and Beethoven’s music (the latter’s involvement may explain the unusually more mature audience filling the seats around the Arcola’s Studio 1 stage).
Apparently Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata is fiendishly difficult for a violinist to play and unlike any sonata you’re ever likely to hear.
Although a monologue by Hicks he is accompanied on stage by acclaimed violinist Phillip Granell and, on the piano Alice Pinto, and it is wonderful to listen to them during the few minutes when they are given leave to entertain, on the premise of being two of the story’s characters staging a musical event.
Whether you’re a fan of classical music or not (and Pozdnyshev is not) they make a fascinating addition to the production. Alice is intense, bowed over her piano, her hands caressing and stroking the keys with a clear love of her instrument.
Granell gives a spellbinding performance. The tousle-haired violinist, one breakaway curl on the top of his unruly head furiously dancing independently as its owner holds us in rapt attention. I could have listened to him all night.
It opens with Pozdnyshev sitting on a bench in a train station. He’s playing with a yo-yo and begins talking to the audience. And, throughout 95 minutes (quite rightly, no interval to break the tension), we sit to attention, listening to one man’s terrible tale.
He seems so pleasant, this former council official. So respectable. But the more we hear the worse it becomes. We laugh, we gasp, and, in the end, we are appalled and horrified.
It is an enthralling story, and a bold and exhilarating production with Hicks proving a masterful storyteller. A truly unmissable experience.
The Kreutzer Sonata runs at the Arcola Theatre until July 23.
The Kreutzer Sonata is an enthralling story, and a bold and exhilarating production with Hicks proving a masterful storyteller. A truly unmissable experience.