War and Peace

Adapted by Helen Edmondson from the novel by Leo Tolstoy
Directed by Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale
Shared Experience/National Theatre
Liverpool Playhouse (21st-24th February 2008)

Review by Alice Lenkiewicz

I was impressed by Helen Edmondson’s adaptation of War And Peace performed by Shared Experience at the Liverpool Playhouse. This was not an easy challenge and I felt the audience’s anticipation of this huge task before the play began. The play was performed in two parts over two nights, with about two and a half to three hours each night. Visually, the play aimed to be historically accurate with clever use of colour, costume, sound and lighting. Sonya (Sophie Roberts), with her pale features and pale green dress seemed authentic enough to have been televised. I particularly loved the use of lighting as it was reminiscent of early nineteenth century paintings and reflected well the time period of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia.

There were moments during the play when the performance reverted from spoken word to pure mime and movement. I particularly enjoyed these areas of the play and I remember thinking how interesting it would be to see the whole play in this way, as a mimed performance. It seemed to work very well. And therefore my only criticism was that there seemed to possibly be one too many genres going on at the same time, so that mime, dance performance, then straightforward acting then singing (it did border on being a musical at times), packing too much into one performance. They should have kept it slightly simpler. Even so, this did no take away from the fact that the play was very entertaining and highly enjoyable.

The characters were well performed, at times one actor played more than just one part and they kept me interested; particularly the relationships between Natasha Rostova (Louise Ford) and Prince Andrei (David Sturzaker), Pierre Besuhov (Barnaby Kay) and Helene Kuragin (Vinette Robinson) and the intense interaction between Mariah Bolkonskaya (Katie Wimpenny) and her domineering father, Prince Bolkonsky (Jeffery Kissoon). There were also some strange twists of fate when Prince Andrei survives the war only to return home to find that his first wife Lisa (Sophie Roberts) has died during childbirth. They performed this sad and emotional moment along with others very well. Overall the pace and passion in this play kept me wanting more. I looked forward to the second night.

Returning to see the final part of the play, I was surprised and disappointed to see that the audience was slightly thin on the ground; such a shame. Tolstoy was one of Europe’s greatest 20th century writers, and his work in many ways reflected our own current political war situation. In terms of love and relationships, very little has changed. The story is timeless. The play continued to build up in terms of emotion and tension. The lovely Natasha Rostova waits patiently to marry Prince Andrei, only to be caught out by a new love, Dolohov (Simon Thorp) who Natasha finally plans to elope with but this is prevented and shunned by her family who discover that the fiery temperamental Dolohov is actually already married.

Natasha seems doomed for a while. Prince Andrei has rejected her of course and she is now without love or hope. However, later, Andrei is wounded in war only to be reunited with Natasha. I must admit, I winced slightly. ‘How convenient’, I thought. ‘Now that Andrei is ill, he needs her and his love is firmly back in place?’ Maybe I am just too cynical or maybe I just wasn’t very fond of Andre’s cold distant character. Surprisingly, Andre eventually passes away and Natasha and Pierre (who somehow were always destined for each other), are finally thrown together at last where they finally live in peace and happiness.

The play did a very good job at conveying the horrors of war. The political and social messages were strong but there was also a sense that love is fought for at all costs.
Both the war and the relationships between these families reflected the ever-changing turmoil of life in its battle to find order, love, peace and happiness. This was an informative and enjoyable performance. Highly recommended.

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Comment left by abiola on 9th May, 2008 at 9:11
isnt it anatoile who tries to sleep with Natasha, not dolohov

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