The Kreutzer Sonata, Gate Theatre, London

4.00

The motion of a train loosens the tongue, confides Pozdnyshev, our companion in a railway carriage for the 85 minutes of this extraordinarily compelling stage adaptation of Tolstoy's great, warped novella The Kreutzer Sonata. In Natalie Abrahami's pitch-perfect production at the tiny Gate Theatre, this figure is a kind of bourgeois Russian Ancient Mariner, compelled to re-tell the story of how he murdered his arguably adulterous wife. She may have been playing more than piano with a newly arrived violinist, who had been a childhood friend of Pozdnyshev. Emphasising the subjective nature of the protagonist's testimony, this couple are seen here fitfully illuminated behind a scrim either making music or love in candle-lit flashes that are like the lingering neuralgic throb of an obsession that has survived Pozdnyshev's acquittal for homicide.

This week saw the transmission of Hilton McRae's brilliant eponymous performance in the television drama The Execution of Gary Glitter. He is on equally virtuosic form here in an expertly understated portrayal of a man who is both a bracing radical thinker and a quietly twisted monomaniac. Usually in monologues of this kind, you know where you stand in relation to the speaker and to the author's intentions. Here, though, you feel that Tolstoy has lost control of reader/spectator response; it's that which makes the show so incorrigibly alive. Some of Pozdnyshev's sentiments have a proto-feminist ring – the idea that marriage is licensed whoredom; the notion that women will never be free as long as they are chained to the charm offensive that is their traditional lot. But, rather as with Strindberg, you feel that with friends like these, women scarcely need enemies. These forward-looking views are distorted by backward-looking misogynist views about society's need to save women from their manipulative, man-destroying methods.

McRae rarely raises his voice; he often keeps his cigarette-clutching hand close to his face in the manner of liars; he flashes smiles of watery radiance that betoken the kind of assumed complicity with an interlocutor that is actually a form of defensive blackmail. From time to time, he seems to "come round" from the low-key trance of his discourse and to break cover with some hard comment about his brute circumstances as a newly freed prisoner. There's a balefully beautiful moment when he implies that he only possesses what he stands up – or, rather, mostly reclines – in and fishes a few bits and bots out of his pockets, producing touchingly the little metal yo-yo of one of his bereaved sons.

Timing is of the essence in music and in life, our protagonist avers. (It was with the hideous punctuality of future disaster that the violinist turned up out of the blue on their doorstep at that particular moment of marital disharmony and at the split-second that the wife returned from a ride looking ravishing.) Timing is also crucial in comedy and McRae paces to perfection Pozdnyshev's bilious musings on culture and sexual politics. It is "Better to be a corpse than a spinster" he declares with an off-hand matter-of-factness as though proposing that it is better to commit suicide than let your life-insurance lapse. And there are some great pot shots against the power of music here, its potency both conceded and bitterly resented. "An evening of music, to me, is like an evening in a brothel. You pay your money; you perspire – there is a vague feeling of release... and you return to life as it was, a bigger fraud than before."

In real life, Pozdnyshev is the sort of man who would drive you to pulling the communication cord after ten minutes tops. Here, thanks to the alchemy of art, you are content to be his fellow-traveller for nearly an hour and a half.

To 5 December (020-7229 0706; www.gatetheatre.co.uk)

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments