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Shostakovich’s composition of his seventh symphony, during the Second World War siege of Leningrad, is a fascinating story. Even more traumatic was the experience of the orchestra who eventually played the Leningrad premiere of the completed work that came to bear the city’s name. The Conductor explores these events from the perspective of Karl Eliasberg, conductor of that orchestra.

Eliasberg is something of an outsider in the upper echelons of the city’s music scene. He comes from a less privileged background than his contemporaries, and is painfully aware that he doesn’t have the talent of Shostakovich. As Eliasberg, Joe Skelton captures the stiffness of a man who describes himself as a cold fish, yet we also see the passion of an artist determined to produce great work at all costs. His complex relationship with Shostakovich is nicely set up; “I hate him,” says the jealous conductor, but he is able to recognise the genius of his work.

And that genius is amply demonstrated in the superb piano playing of Danny Wallington, taking on the role of Dmitri Shostakovich. I was impressed with how he could wring so much drama out of the symphony with just the piano, and no ranks of violins or trombones. Cleverly, he also plays a small drum – percussion being entirely essential to this symphony – and the effect is tremendous. The only problem is that the music risks over-shadowing the rest of the play, simply because of its power and magnificence.

The long piano pieces leave less time for the scenes of Leningrad’s suffering that should form the emotional heart of the piece. Eliasberg’s second rate Radio Orchestra has been left behind in the city while the prestigious Leningrad Philharmonic has been evacuated – and when he is ordered to reform it to play the now-complete 7th Symphony, we find out how the orchestra has struggled during the siege. Many members are dead, and others have barely the energy to rehearse.

Deborah Wastell, playing all the female roles in the play, comes into her own here. We see where Eliasberg’s perseverance comes from in her stoic refusal to leave the city, and Wastell nicely differentiates between her roles – notably as Shostakovich’s wife, Nita, and the dancer Nina Bronnikova, who touches a softer side in the conductor.

The set design and lighting are as good as anything I have seen at this year’s Fringe. The red and black curtains draped across the windows establish a dramatic palette, and in combination with the grey angular shapes of Andrew Skelton’s set, form a backdrop that works equally well for a high society party, Eliasburg’s humble home, and a bombed out city. These dramatic changes of scene are enabled by wonderfully evocative lighting by Chris Wright.

There is so much here that is excellent – but director Jared McNeill and playwright Mark Wallington (who has adapted Sarah Quigley’s novel) need to resolve how best to reconcile the music and the story. My feeling is that the emotional punch that the story could deliver is undermined by the length of time given to the powerful music. I’m also unsure of the value of playing several minutes of the symphony as a recording, after the actors have left the stage but before they return to take their bow. It is lovely to hear the completed symphony, but the recording can’t be as exciting as the live music we’ve just experienced, despite being the full orchestral version.

Those criticisms aside, all the elements of this show individually work very well; fine acting and musicianship is supported by superb set design and lighting. The full house absolutely adored it.