Review – The Kreutzer Sonata, Gate Theatre

Kreutzer Sonata
Theatre monologues are a little bit like David Blane stunts – impressive feats, certainly, but not something which is likely to be interesting to watch all the way through. Clare Higgins’ ability to perform Wallace Shawn’s The Fever was impressive, but it didn’t really require all of us to sit through it for it to be impressive – we could have all quite happily stayed in the bar throughout the performance and sent one person in to confirm, bleary eyed and confused when it finished, that yes, she remembered all the words and there was just one person on stage throughout. Impressive, yep, mighty impressive – but far from compelling drama.

The Kreutzer Sonata, on the other hand, gets it right. Hilton McRae is not just impressive, but actively engaging as he recounts the story of his marriage, his wife’s dubious adultery, his jealousy and her murder at his hands. There are no shortcuts here, which is so often the problem with monologues: the set is superb, the music is beautifully performed, the most dramatic moments are illuminated by a veiled pair of actors performing behind a gauze and Natalie Abrahami’s direction is spot on.

McRae’s performance is shocking and compelling. The conceit is that we are sharing a railway carriage the protagonist , one which we are socially unable to escape – a conceit which is well realised in the Gate’s tiny auditorium where an early exit would require much clambering and uncomfortable proximity with the performers (this was confirmed by my neighbour who spent the whole time whispering “this is crap” and then tweeting “this is crap” but didn’t muster the courage to make an exit). This proximity with McRae is uncomfortable, particularly during the most gruesome parts of his account, but it works wonderfully in the context and serves to focus our attention closely on his words.

To deliver an 80 minute monologue which is coherent and interesting is an impressive feat, but to watch one which is as compelling and beautifully crafted as The Kreutzer Sonata is a pleasure.