[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/87815?ns=guardian&pageName=Mixed+Up+North%2C+The+Kreutzer+Sonata+and+Shraddha+%7C+Theatre+review%3AArticle%3A1304783&ch=Stage&c3=Obs&c4=Theatre%2CStage%2CCulture+section&c6=Kate+Kellaway&c7=09-Nov-15&c8=1304783&c9=Article&c10=Feature%2CReview&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FTheatre[/img]Wilton's Music Hall, London
Truth can be subtler than fiction. What is so involving about verbatim theatre is the sense of eavesdropping on real voices – belonging, in this case, to people from Burnley, Lancashire. As I walked to my seat, the stage was already full of people – as if preparing for a chaotic party – with glitzy crimson, gold and silver streamers framing a makeshift stage. It felt as if we were interrupting people whose lives had started before we arrived and would continue long after we had left. And it occurred to me that this might have been what it was like for Robin Soans researching Mixed Up North – days spent in Burnley, during which he helped himself to rich offcuts from people's lives – then left them to it.
Trish is in charge of "Street YYs" – a mixed race community drama group, formed after the riots of 2001 – and she lets us know what's what. For the play's conceit is that we are guests who need to be kept in the loop. Trish is a Christian with a well developed sense of her own centrality in the universe – but a genuinely kind person too. And Celia Imrie's tremendously entertaining performance would, on its own, make this show worth seeing. But as it happens, every member of the cast (most of whom worked on the show in its earlier stages at Lamda) is a delight to watch – even if their stories are anything but delightful. We hear about abuse, painful arranged marriage, rape – and, as in real life, there are repeated interruptions. There is nothing, in Trish's view, that cannot be improved by a 'brew' or punctuated by a sneaky Hobnob.
The group is rehearsing a play about mixed-race relationships, a theme revealed (by one of its cast members) to be patronisingly narrow. The play eventually extends to subjects such as grooming (older men preying on vulnerable girls), unemployment, minuscule divisions in Burnley's society and a debate about how taboos persist in a Britain that prides itself on transparency. Max Stafford-Clark gives a masterclass here: his direction is fresh, funny, spontaneous and he makes you feel that this is theatre that really matters. Mind you, he bribes you a little too: the audience is offered slabs of cake, and an occasional sweet to accompany the endless food for thought about an economically blighted town in which industry has been replaced by emptiness.
It is what every traveller dreads: an encounter with a mad passenger who will not stop talking. At the Gate, we are in the dark, old-fashioned compartment of a Russian train, with no terminus in sight, and with Pozdynyshev – recently released from jail – who will not desist until he has discharged himself of every detail of his misogyny (his hatred at the smug way his wife ate boiled eggs) and the sexual jealousy that led him to murder her. His jealousy has incontinently spread to a loathing of music – in particular of the Kreutzer Sonata. He became convinced his wife was having an affair with a violinist and that Beethoven's music – too seductive for safety – was to blame.
Tolstoy's sensational 1889 novella has been dashingly adapted by Nancy Harris (she can wield a knife as precisely as Pozdynyshev). And Hilton McRae never loses his way in an extraordinarily disturbing one-and-a-half-hour monologue during which he is indecently reasonable in tone – throwing a coverlet of respectability over his sins. What works best about this theatrical adaptation of the novella is the heightened sense it gives of Pozdynyshev as author of his own loneliness. And we, the audience, are the emptiness he occupies.
I admired Natalie Abrahami's penetrating direction and Chloe Lamford's mysterious set. The world of the train is monochrome but we can see – through a glass brightly – life, beauty, engagement on the other side of the window. We can hear Sophie Scott as the piano-playing wife and Tobias Beer as the violinist. Tolstoy wanted the novel to be performed with music. And here it is: the piano grand, the strings never false.
Shraddha is a Romeo and Juliet without the tragedy. Pearl (Jade Williams) is a sharp-tongued Romany girl. Joe is an obstreperous cockney (Alex Waldmann). Natasha Langridge has researched Romany culture to write this play and concluded that Roma are "true humans" while the rest of us are "mere automatons". This romantic notion influences her naive, beguiling, uneven play. I loved the Romany lingo: divvy dinlow: silly fool; mumpley: inferior form of gipsy; bok: luck. But I had hoped the play would go deeper, that it would – with bok – educate us more about gypsies and leave us feeling the opposite of divvy dinlows. It didn't. But three cheers for Anna Carteret as Granny who does some serious dancing – she must have gypsy blood in her.
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Guardian: Mixed Up North, The Kreutzer Sonata and Shraddha | Theatre review
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