Our Great Tchaikovsky review: A gruelling experience

This problematic play about the great composer's life leaves Tony Peters feeling a little flat

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2.0 out of 5 star rating

Writer and performer Hershey Felder has carved out something of a niche with one-man shows portraying great composers. Following on from the likes of Gershwin, Chopin, Beethoven, Bernstein, Irving Berlin and Liszt, he now brings his performance as Tchaikovsky to the The Other Palace.

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It starts with the composer’s life as a child when he was sent away to school —his family determined that he would become a civil servant but he equally determined to become a great musician. From then it follows a mostly linear course through Tchaikovsky’s life told in what is an unconvincing Russian accent and interspersed with, it has to be said, some virtuoso piano playing.

Unfortunately for a life so great, the performance is all a bit, erm, one note with little dramatic arc or emotional depth. We get no sense of a man struggling with his sexuality and stranded in a loveless marriage because convention demands it. The moment when he falls in love with his own nephew is passed over rather glibly, as is the occasion when he contemplates suicide. There’s little sense of the agony he must have been suffering to think about taking such action.

Even a section midway through when Felder comes out of character for a rant about the treatment of homosexuals in Putin’s Russia feels flat and awkwardly placed and destroys what little atmosphere has been created.

There are a couple of points of interest for those of us who are not Tchaikovsky scholars and things finally become intriguing during the final five minutes when we learn about rumours and conspiracy theories surrounding the composer’s death, but by then it’s all too late. Running at an hour and 45 minutes without an interval and The Other Palace seating offering its own nut-cracking discomfort, this is an often a grueling experience.

Tony Peters

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Our Great Tchaikovsky is at The Other Place until 22 October