Edinburgh Fringe 2015
“Beethoven in Stalingrad. Christmas 1942. The war has twisted boys into men. Twelve true stories explore the deepest existential questions – survival, faith, love – here intertwined with a live deconstruction of music by Beethoven. Scottish violinist Ian Peaston unravels and remixes the Appassionata in distorted electronic strands that mirror the narratives of real soldiers’ letters from Stalingrad, adapted and performed by Swedish actor Jesper Arin.”
Twelve letters from the Russian front line, never delivered; twelve micro-stories shared with us in the intimate basement theatre space at Spotlites. Letter’s censored, never to reach their destination, these forms the basis of this powerful, haunting and occasionally shattering solo theatre piece.
Ian Peaston samples and plays violin, building an evocative sound scape, orchestral, ethereal, and woven into the monologue. Swedish actor, Jesper Arin is the sole performer, and the connection with Beethoven emerges more clearly towards the end. This is a show that builds, an emergent piece. Each letter adds something new but the atmosphere the freezing winter where fingers can drop off from frost bite, all of this is created in an integrated way – through sound, through physicality, through light and through music, not to mention some clear and nuanced vocal delivery.
This is storytelling, recitation and simple theatre. Less is more and, given the room was actually very hot, the chill of a Russian winter came across well. The monologue is often poetic and there’s an urgency in the performer’s voice. Letters can be like that – we know there is distance of time and we want our messages to reach their intended goal.
I was drawn in and felt immersed in a mood, partly due to the style of delivery and partly from the sound scape. Occasionally that sound-scape felt too electronic and then it became a bit intrusive. It really came into its own at the end as music and candle flame invoked a unique feeling, an effect that lasted, for their was clear silence as the audience went upstairs after the show. I say invoked because this piece didn’t feel just delivered. It felt like a bit of collaboration. These letters can’t just be delivered by a capable actor. They require witness, listeners, and that was the role of the audience. I was affected by Beethoven in Stalingrad, and I was also impressed by the quality of the writing and the simple power of the performances – both musical and spoken.