Canadian actor-musician Hershey Felder stars in this solo ‘play with music’ that takes us through the great composers life while interspersed with some of his classic work – ‘Swan Lake’, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ to name just a few. This bio-drama is an eclectic mix of music, lecture and political comment that entertains for the most part but at times leaves us wondering why there isn’t an interval.
Felder is an incredibly talented pianist and his piano playing is the strongest aspect of this production. It evokes memories of Christmas, falling in love, pain and sadness, feelings of summer and winter. It really does have the power to transport you somewhere else aided by some rather heavy handed video imagery. I often wished for more playing and less talking with highlights being Felder playing for minutes on end with no interruption.
Spending the most part as Tchaikovsky while sometimes slipping into his Canadian self, Felder is not the most natural or instinctive actor. Large parts of the dialogue are not engaging enough however he is aided by a fascinating subject living an eventful life. A life which included – a failed marriage, blackmail over his tortured homosexuality, numerous infatuations (including rather alarmingly his twelve year old nephew) and a rather mysterious death. He slips out of character to make a comment on the current attitudes towards homosexuality in Russia. Although surprising, it once again is interesting enough to rouse our outrage and horror that this is happening in 2017.
Nine days after conducting his sixth symphony, he was found dead aged 53. It is sad that such a gifted artist lived in such fear and anguish over his sexuality but as Felder points out, has that much changed? Russia’s attitudes towards homosexuality, the degrading postal vote in Australia over marriage equality, reported gay concentration camps in Chechnya, the alarming gay crack-down in Azerbaijan would all suggest otherwise. We are implored by Felder to be alert and vigilant.
Despite not always hitting the mark this production makes an important political comment and Felder’s piano playing has the power to transport us and make us forget it all, even if just for a few fleeting minutes.
Our Great Tchaikovsky plays at The Other Palace theatre until October 22.
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Words by Matthew Hyde
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