In the style of imposing seatmates everywhere, the protagonist of The Kreutzer Sonata won’t stop talking. This smart and terrifying adaptation of a Tolstoy novella transports us into Pozdynyshev’s train car just after his acquittal for his wife’s murder. Smoking cigarettes and sipping tea, Pozdynyshev (a wheedling, wincing Hilton McRae) supplies us with fresh testimony about his marriage, which soured when he became convinced that his wife, a pianist, was cheating on him with her accompanist.
Even as it unfolds on a train, this production—from London’s Gate Theatre, directed by Natalie Abrahami—is a study of confinement. Snared in an unhappy union with his wife, Pozdynyshev sympathized with her attraction to the violinist: When it came to taming illicit feelings, “She didn’t have a hope, of course, poor thing. None of us does.” But he remained jealous, and now he can’t escape his own anguished recollections of his wife’s supposed infidelity.
She and her accompanist collaborated on the titular Kreutzer Sonata, and at key moments strains of Beethoven mingle with the train’s clatter and Pozdynyshev’s chatter, producing a distinctive trio. The train car’s wooden slats recall the bars of a cell, and just behind its translucent wall, we sometimes glimpse the pianist (Sophie Scott) and violinist (Tobias Beer) playing together, in various senses of the term. This revision of Othello plants Iago within Pozdynyshev, and in seeing what he remembers—or perhaps only imagines—we, too, get trapped in his manic mind.