The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

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.

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