Nicky Rebelo

The Kreutzer Sonata

DIRECTOR: Clare Stopford

CAST: Nicky Rebello

VENUE: Alexander Upstairs Theatre

UNTIL: September 20

RATING: ***

It is highly appropriate that this dramatic adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novella should have its Cape Town premiere on the birthday of the iconic Russian, and the calibre of Nicky Rebelo’s performance in the demanding 85-minute monologue would no doubt have earned approbation from the author of the original.

Female homicide at the hands of a malevolent mate is clearly a hot topic in today’s South Africa, so this tale of a husband’s murderous rage against a spouse of questionable fidelity is anything but a period piece of fiction belonging to 19th century Russia. Even without this manifest relevance, however, the recital tracing a man’s journey from youthful debauchery to idealistic courtship, matrimonial dissatisfaction and vengeful murder has a universality that easily engrosses listeners of any age.

The intrinsic drama of the narrator Posdnicheff’s confession is more than enough to capture and sustain listeners’ attention, but it is far more than the juicy account of a crime of passion; the script is enriched by a wealth of thought-provoking philosophical comment leavened by dry humour and tongue-in-cheek cynicism.

Rebelo, who has adapted Tolstoy’s story for the stage, makes the most of this opulent material. He fixes his audience with an unwavering gaze to turn theatre-patrons into a collective confidant, the recipient of his views on lust, love, jealousy and human weakness. This effectively engineers them into the role of the young man (on the brink of matrimony) whom Posdnicheff addresses in the train compartment in which the two are travelling to Moscow.

The intimacy of Alexander Upstairs conduces to this exercise. While care has been taken to capture a sense of period in the style and texture of the train seat, as well as Rebelo’s costume, there is room for improvement in the evocation of the setting’s ambience. For example, the chug of the train is intermittent and since there is no reference to the journey being stopped at any point, it would be more convincing if the sound were continuously audible, even if muted where necessary.

Given the consistent intensity of Rebelo’s verbal marathon, however, details such as this do not significantly detract from the power of the work – and snatches of Beethoven’s chamber music, with its dangerously alluring passion lending credibility to the story, are an added bonus.