I would never usually advocate abandoning a book after beginning it, but if you have already dedicated the most fruitful years of your life to toiling through Tolstoy’s 1,444 pages of War and Peace, and cannot remember why Natasha Rostov forsakes Andrei Bolkonsky for the love of Anatole Kuragin, yet somehow ends up happily married to Pierre Bezukhov, I say just cut your loses and go to see Nottingham Playhouse’s stunning two part production. The story, for those of you who are unaware, is one of early nineteenth century Russia during tumultuous times for the aristocracy and peasants alike. War is nigh with the brink of the Napoleonic conquest of Western Europe, and five bourgeoisie families face the truth of the absurdity of existence when they are made to confront the consequences of war. I think it is the staggering ambition of the two directors from Shared Experience, in collaboration with the Playhouse that allows this adaptation to reach such dizzying heights. The deftly synthesised five and a half hour production perfectly captures the narcissism of a gilded Russian society with nothing but a minimal set of smoke and mirrors. The unfaltering, seemingly undaunted company of 15 takes on 72 roles between them, which must be no small staging feat. But I gave my heart to each one of the 72 characters; for Andrei when his wife passes in childbirth and for Countess Rostov when she hears the news of her son’s death fighting the French.

Tolstoy, forever the ardent rationalist, would be smiling from his grave at this adaptation for the stage. He intended with his original novel ‘Voyna i mir’ for his reader to see the irrational motives for human behaviour in both war and peace, and Helen Edmundson’s ideologically befuddled Pierre with his own Napoleon complex: imagining conversations with the bellicose leader, means it loses none of this sting. It seems of no less significance today that a war that starts off as ‘a war for peace’ can soon dissipate into ‘a battle of wills between magnanimous men’.

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