Previewed 25 April 1996, Opened 30 April 1996, Closed 18 May 1996 at the Aldwych Theatre in London
Jack Hofsiss' production of James Goldman's new play Tolstoy in London starring F Murray Abraham in the title role.
A roller-coaster portrayal of the passionate and tormented marriage of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy - a complicated novelist, an infuriated wife and a curdled marriage - set during the last weeks of Leo Tolstoy's life from 23 September 7 November 1910.
The cast features F Murray Abraham as 'Leo Tolstoy' and Gemma Jones as 'Sonya' along with Matthew Marsh as 'Vladimir Chertkov', John Grillo, Sioned Jones, Catherine Kanter, Alan Leith, Adrian Lukis, Judith Scott, Katherine Stark and Jim Wiggins. Directed by Jack Hofsiss with designs by Tanya McCallin, lighting by Ian Sommerville and sound by Ilona Sekacz.
"The American dramatist, James Goldman, specialises in cutting marital feuds down to size. In The Lion in Winter, he turned the quarrel between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine into bitchy Broadway comedy. Now, in the dismal Tolstoy he takes the lacerating feud between the great novelist and his wife, Sonya, and makes it seem like an episode from a Russian soap... I suspect Goldman's aim is to do justice to Sonya, who devoted herself to Tolstoy during his great periods of activity. But there is no mention of the fact that she hated sex and used it only as a means of gaining power... Jack Hofsiss' production, with its unexpected glimpses of characters moving about in the wings, is barely competent. F Murray Abraham, so good in the Amadeus movie, is given little chance to show Tolstoy's contradictions... And although Gemma Jones deploys her formidable technique to convey Sonya's mixture of dementia and devotion, she does not have the lines to work with. Mr Goldman once wrote the book to Sondheim's Follies, a work that says infinitely more about bad marriages than anything in this piffling bio-play." The Guardian
"As the candle of his long life begins to flicker out, Tolstoy's over-protective spouse Sonya and his leech-like disciple Chertkov circle each other and do battle for the soul and the diaries of the writer. Jack Hofsiss' rather slow and hesitant production has two great strengths: the watchful F Murray Abraham who won an Oscar for his performance as Salieri in Amadeus, and the ever-watchable Gemma Jones... As the woman who has dedicated her life to his work and copied out seven drafts of War And Peace, she beautifully conveys the mixed emotions of devotion and frustration to be found in any long-suffering amanuensis. The way in which their children cynically take sides is sharply observed, with some neat touches of bitter black comedy; yet the psychology at work here is too shallow to involve us deeply. A pity: perhaps they should have read more from the diaries instead." The Daily Express
"In Tolstoy, a new biographical drama, writer James Goldman presents the writer and his wife Sonya during the strange final weeks of his life in 1910... There is no shortage of reasons to find fault with Tolstoy. It is intensely stagey, and yet it also seems to want to be a film; it is melodramatic and artificial; the staging, by the American director Jack Hofsiss, never quite gels and the play never seriously enters into Tolstoy himself. Finding merit in Tolstoy is an altogether harder affair. And yet I do. It is oddly refreshing, for one thing, to follow the breakdown of a 48-year-old marriage that has produced 13 children. For another, Goldman takes us with a fair degree of success into the anguished mind of Sonya... The play has too many short scenes, too many narrators, too much slick rhetoric. And we never really enter Tolstoy's mind as we do Sonya's. F Murray Abraham, the celebrated American actor, might be a good Tolstoy if only he had more of a role. His naturalistic acting is marred by too much self-conscious pained nobility. Gemma Jones's Sonya, by contrast, though more modest in tone, projects into the theatre much more carefully. Their styles are so dissimilar that it is impossible to believe that these people had been married for one year, let alone forty-eight." The Financial Times
Tolstoy in London at the Aldwych Theatre previewed from 25 April 1996, opened on 30 April 1996 and closed on 18 May 1996