Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
THIS IS a week for epic theatre. As the RSC brings Shakespeare’s history plays to North London’s Roundhouse (to be reviewed next week), down the road the Hampstead is hosting Shared Experience’s hugely ambitious and deeply rewarding stage version of Tolstoy’s great Russian novel.
As with Shakespeare, a nation’s history courses through Tolstoy’s characters. Central is the dashing Prince Andrei (David Sturzaker), who craves the valour of battle, and his thoughtful and bumbling friend Pierre (Barnaby Kay), an heir who yearns to swap his dissolute lifestyle for the kind of discipline exemplified by his country’s enemy, Napoleon.
The strutting French emperor (Richard Atlee) is a mocking presence in Pierre’s imagination until the ravages of war eventually force a crisis of conscience about the murderous cost of big ideas.
Nancy Meckler’s and Polly Teale’s production moves with balletic precision from Russia’s frivolous high society, where Louise Ford’s pretty Princess grows into a woman of substance, to the country home where Andrei’s fierce father (a terrific Jeffrey Kissoon) barks orders at his long-suffering daughter Maria (Kate Wimpenny), and to the killing fields, where tens of thousands clashed and died in a day.