War and Peace, Hampstead Theatre, London

2.00

Blink and you'll miss the emotion

Helen Edmundson's adaptation of the enormous Tolstoy novel is full of Russians dancing, striding, climbing, crouching, brawling, leaping, duelling, whirling. There is a lot of whirling. Men hug women above the knees, hoist them up, and pirouette so often that the innocent may think this the customary greeting in the early 19th century. But, while the energy levels hold up throughout Nancy Meckler and Polly Teale's production for Shared Experience, the intellectual and emotional ones remain shallow, and at times these aspects are treated so brusquely as to distort them.

When Prince Andrei questions his friend Pierre Bezukhov's improvements in the lives of the peasants, saying they ought to be worked till they drop and, when ill, left to die, he does so as a disillusioned and embittered man, envying the poor for the oblivion of exhaustion and death. Here his sentiments are so brief, so cold that some in the audience gasp at such villainy.

The vigorous motion that never rests long enough for us to become involved with any character results partly from the quixotic nature of the enterprise: though, at nearly six hours, this version is about 90 minutes longer than the one presented at the National Theatre in 1996, one would need almost twice the time to do justice to the narrative, to the characters and their spiritual quest. The plot often become a series of speaking telegrams, announcing that Pierre has inherited "one of the largest estates in Russia! Forty thousand serfs! Millions of roubles!" or that, at a party, "the eyes of all Moscow will be on you, Natasha Rostova".

Another problem is the undistinguished performances. The Andrei of David Sturzaker is pinched and parched, never evincing to any noticeable degree his growing love for Natasha or for humanity. Barnaby Kay's Pierre is, in contrast, a lumbering oaf, bereft of social graces but seething with passion. In fantasy, he pushes a pretty woman on to her back and rocks up and down between her legs, shouting, "I am in the abyss!" At the same time, he carries on talking to Napoleon – the emperor strolls on every now and then for a chat with Pierre, whose feeling for him changes from hero-worship to hatred.

Richard Attlee's Napoleon poses with his right hand inside his waistcoat and talks like a nagging wife of our time ("Feeling sorry for yourself again? You're pathetic."). Natasha, the love of Pierre's as well as Andrei's life, is, as played by Louise Ford, a classic case for Ritalin in her early scenes as a 12-year-old, leaping and rushing and romping without a break. When this strident childishness ends, Ford doesn't put charm or womanliness in its place – her character remains, though more stiffly, merely self-absorbed.

Far more sympathetic and appealing performances can be found in the lesser parts. Vinette Robinson is stylish, heartless, and unexpectedly touching as Pierre's unhappy wife; as the companion of Maria, Andrei's sister, she combines strength, sweetness, and an engaging vulnerability. Jeffery Kissoon, always a pleasure, is here especially welcome as Andrei and Maria's appallingly outspoken father, his hilarious insults bubbling up from a well of misery. The daughter, continually derided as useless and plain, could have been a mere whimpering masochist, but Katie Wimpenny's Maria is a minor heroine of stoicism and unrequited love.

Angela Simpson's set of shiny, scurfy grey marble, with gilt picture frames used to enclose actors singly or in small groups, is a fine combination of grandeur and decay. But the play as a whole lacks grandeur, especially in its too-short battle scenes. At Borodino, the attacking soldiers rush to the footlights, waving white sca ves. The brandishing of a sign of surrender during an advance seems symbolic of a show that, for all its activity, never takes us very far.

To 11 May (020-7722 9301; www.hampsteadtheatre.com)

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game