Adelaide Festival: The Kreutzer Sonata – A Subtle Beauty

Renato Musolino in The Kreutzer Sonata. Photo by Shane Reid.
Renato Musolino in The Kreutzer Sonata. Photo by Shane Reid.

Named after Beethoven’s own ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, Tolstoy’s novella was first published in 1889 only to be immediately censored by the Tsarist government.

It was even banned from being imported into the United States with the then President Theodore Roosevelt calling Tolstoy a “sexual moral pervert”.

The State Theatre Company of South Australia’s production of Sue Smith’s new adaptation of The Kreutzer Sonata centres on the life, love and philosophy of main character Pozdnyzhev and how, consumed by jealousy and paranoia, he murders his wife in a fit of unbearable rage.

There was a palpable sense of shock and despair in South Australia at the news of the withdrawal of Barry Otto from this production for health reasons after only 2 preview performances. I know I share the sentiment of the whole of the South Australian arts community in wishing him well and hoping he makes a full recovery.

Geordie Brookman has shown a strength of vision not only in choosing this powerful tale as his first official show as Artistic Director but also in the team he has put together and his choice of the STCSA’s Scenic Workshop (up until now the place where all the sets were manufactured) as a performance space. The workshop is everything a local punter might think of finding in a New York warehouse staging independent theatre. There are lots of old props and signage reminiscent of long gone glories. The room does invite an organically wistful element of romance well suited to this particular production.

Recently Anthony Steel AM was lamenting (as we all do) the absence of a Don Dunstan and his bold, egalitarian vision in our political midst. There is a sneaking suspicion; at least in and for the arts, we have someone similar in Brookman.

Actor Renato Musolino was given 42 hours notice before his first performance of this role after Barry Otto made the difficult decision to withdraw. That is not only a measure of Renato’s ability but also a strong indication of Brookman’s level of confidence in the project and his own ability to confront unforeseen developments.

The set’s mirror effect has a subtle beauty to it. In fact, what comes to mind during this performance is a persistent sense of subtle beauty – it’s there in Geordie Brookman’s direction, Geoff Cobham’s set and lighting, Thom Buchanan’s drawings, Sue Smith’s adaptation, Renato Musolino’s delivery, Gabriella Smart’s piano and musical direction, Elizabeth Layton’s violin, and in it’s own way, there is a subtle beauty in Leo Tolstoy’s original story.

The effect of the projected drawings on the rear wall was like watching the vivaciousness of an original impressionist at work.

No one could be blamed for reflecting on the loss of a fully rehearsed Otto and thinking “My god, what could have been?” but to borrow from the text itself; this production of The Kreutzer Sonata is “all in superlative good taste”.

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