Beethoven in Stalingrad

War is a constant in our lives; a part of the combined human experience that while intensely distressing seems an integral and inherent aspect of what it is to be human. Most of us will never fight or experience war beyond what you read and hear on the news, but Beethoven in Stalingrad is a piece of theatre that brings you close to the mindset of a soldier living his final days.

As the lights dim, Peaston’s beautiful violin playing finally comes to the fore and brings home the messages of the piece.

The play takes 12 true stories of men from the frontline in Stalingrad, with their final undelivered letters providing the basis of the script. The letters, sent from Gumrak airport, were censored by the army due to the fact that only two percent of them were positive towards the war. Twinned with the knowledge that these letters have unknown authors and recipients, this fact provides Arin’s production with excellent subject matter.

The emotive and powerful performance of Jesper Arin provides the focus of the play with his dramatic interpretations of letters sent to family and friends from the German frontline in Stalingrad, proving intensely brutal in its emotional honesty.

The themes of the letters are universal, and that’s exactly what makes this piece of theatre so powerful. The authors of the letters speak of love, trauma, grief, religion, and fear, and while the letters are distressing or hopeful, they all convey the same ultimate emotion, one of complete and utter distraction from what was about to happen – their death.

The music in the show is perhaps undervalued by the production, for the majority of the performance the sounds coming from Ian Peaston are eerie and ethereal, setting the mood for Arin’s performance. However Peaston is guilty of using the effect button too much, with the music often sounding more like a car alarm than a violin.

Peaston, and the show as a whole is saved by the final five minutes. Arin, reading one of the letters, speaks about how someone began to play Beethoven on a piano to the soldiers squatting in Red Square, and as the lights dim, Peaston’s beautiful violin playing finally comes to the fore and brings home the messages of the piece.

Reviews by Conor Matchett

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The Blurb

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. ‘Flawless and unique musical experience!’ ***** (ThreeWeeks) for Peaston’s essens:1. ‘A masterclass in the art of storytelling’ ***** ( ***** (ThreeWeeks), for Arin’s monologue Evil.