The Conductor

The tragedy of World War II is remembered in many ways, but The Conductor, at The Space, takes a highly focussed look at just one small event in Russia’s window on the west in 1941 when Peter the Great’s city was under a siege that was to last 900 days and claim over half a million lives.

Devoid of crescendos and contrasting diminuendos.

In the preceding years Dmitri Shostakovich had been working in his home city on what would become the 7th symphony, commonly known as the Leningrad. He was evacuated from the city before the siege began and it is a matter of dispute as to whether the work relates directly to the event or whether it was a more general tribute to the people’s resistance to invading forces. The work requires a huge orchestra, but when it was premiered in his home city only fourteen members of the Radio Orchestra remained. Conductor Karl Eliasberg had to scour the neighbourhoods in search of anyone who could play an instrument.

Joe Skelton plays Eliasberg and provides a narrative on the period as well as insights into the suffering of the people through exchanges with his mother (Deborah Wastell), mostly on the subject of food and the unending hunt for bread. He also portrays the often fraught and envious relationship between Eliasberg and Shostakovich (Danny Wallington).

Wallington has very little to say and for the most part remains seated at the grand piano playing passages from the symphony. These interludes are the highlight of the production. He is clearly an accomplished pianist and masters the piano reduction of some momentous passages with ease. Impressively, in the invasion theme he plays with his left hand while his right hand taps out the haunting march on the snare drum.

The spartan set of just a couple of chairs and a music stand combined with the chilly air of the theatre conveys the austerity of the period, but Wallington aside, the enormity of the symphony is not matched by the scale of the performances. In addition to the mother, Wastell takes on several other roles yet there is little to mark them out as distinctive individuals. Whether as Shostakovich’s wife or a local official, all seem to be subdued characters. Similarly, with the exception of an outburst towards the end, Skelton sustains a largely hushed, monotone performance and often loses the ends of sentences.

The play’s running time corresponds roughly to that of the symphony, but if director Jared McNeill’s production were a piece of music it would probably be marked ‘lento non appassionato’. Devoid of crescendos and contrasting diminuendos or a range of tempos, it is a listless piece that sustains interest thanks only to the sounds of Shostakovich.

Reviews by Richard Beck

Ambassadors Theatre. / The Ambassadors Theatre


Cambridge Theatre

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Greenwich Theatre

The Dumb Waiter & A Slight Ache

Park Theatre / Park Theatre London

Leaves of Glass

Hampstead Theatre

Biscuits for Breakfast

Wilton's Music Hall

Under Milk Wood


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

In 1941 troops surrounded the city of Leningrad in what would come to be known as the Leningrad Blockade which claimed the lives of over 1 million people. In the midst of this devastation, composer Dmitri Shostakovich worked tirelessly to complete his 7th Symphony, a “symphony for the people.” Based on the best-selling novel, and adapted by Mark Wallington and Jared McNeill, this s the true story of a sound that lifted an entire city in its darkest hour.

Most Popular See More

Frozen the Musical

From £36.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Pretty Woman: The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

From £32.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £21.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets