Kreutzer Sonata Fan Letter
This would be the synopsis of my Adelaide Festival accreditation if I were to actually have any. Not that you shouldn’t trust my judgement; I am trained as a designer so I am obsessed with how things look and how environments affect one’s experiences in them, so you will at least get vaguely coherent commentary about the set if nothing else.
Walking down the stairs, through the tiny door to the theatre, I wonder what I will find… As I finally enter the theatre, my eyes are dragged in all directions by the immaculate detailing of the space. Thus beginning my obsession with the beautifully crafted atmosphere and environment of The Dunstan Theatre’s Scenic Workshop in which our tale takes place: dark, smoky, industrial, a bit creepy, and a lot wonderful. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Artistic director Geordie Brookman and his team have done such a perfect job with the set, the background projections, and the environment as a whole that I forget there is a world outside this theatre and I’m sucked down the rabbit-hole, back to the age of steel and machines.
All the action is centred upon the raised, grated steel walkway, which floats, seemingly unanchored, in the ink-black lake of the stage – an actual lake of water, it turns out.
Huge, thick, black steel plates, punctured with enormous rivets, encircle the raised stage, holding back the dark, murky lake.
These visual representations of the industrial revolution, of rail yards and railway stations (where Tolstoy’s own life ended), transport my mind to the very place, the very train in which the narration takes place.
Pianist Gabriella Smart and violinist Elizabeth Layton aid the narrator in recounting his tale, performing excerpts from contemporary and classical works. These lovely musicians sit several metres up at stage left, trapped in a steel cage.
But for some unfathomable reason, the part of the set (which may not even be part of the actual set) which, for me, most accurately characterises the entire tale is a small room perched high above the caged musicians. The room is bounded on all sides by aged, dirty windows, with a weak, flickering globe at its centre. This tiny room, intentionally or not, perfectly represents to me the mind of our (anti)hero; claustrophobic, untethered, fragile, dimly lit, and filled with pawing, creeping shadows.
This production of The Kreutzer Sonata is Sue Smith’s new adaptation of The Tolstoy novella of the same name; an investigation into sex, love, marriage, trust, jealousy, guilt and remorse. Smith’s entrancing narrative appears smooth-flowing despite the sometimes jarring and explosive emotional leaps of Renato Musolino’s deftly portrayed Pozdnyshev.
Musolino – in his too-big trench coat, pants, and shirt – manages, simply by adjusting his physical countenance, to appear magnificently dishevelled and disturbed when channelling Pozdnyshev, and just together enough when portraying the narrator.
From the first moments, Musolino delivers a rendering of Pozdnyshev’s pain and sadness so sincere I find my body tightening with every passing moment. Sadness, with just a touch of madness bubbling under the surface.
Journalistic convention suggests I refer to the star by his last name, but after experiencing this production I can’t help but feel like I know him personally, so, convention be damned.
Renato then switches from cheeky Pozdnyshev, to stern Pozdnyshev, to rage-fuelled Pozdnyshev, to exhausted Pozdnyshev, to deranged Pozdnyshev, and back to cheeky Pozdnyshev so suddenly and seamlessly that most of the time I don’t realise it is happening.
All the while, Renato quietly and cunningly opens the door for the audience to feel empathy with the frail, damaged, and demonic Pozdnyshev.
When Pozdnyshev’s jealousy of his wife’s new relationship hits the audience, it feels like the beginning of the end, with Pozdnyshev becoming increasingly filed with rage and spluttering fear. The slouching, sneering Pozdnyshev, ranting and oscillating wildly is watched closely by the narrator with unmistakeable pity in his eyes.
Renato fills Pozdnyshev with a cold focus as we near the end – a brutal and harrowing end… then all is quiet.
A lot has been said about the trials and hard luck endured by this production over the last week, but to come out the other end so triumphantly is a credit to all involved. From the first word spoken, these problems were forgotten, such was the self-belief, skill, and courage of the entire production team. You should all be proud.
Thankyou State Theatre Company, Thankyou Renato. What a blessing this was.