Toska is based on the true (and ongoing) story of Russia’s Khachaturyan sisters, who after many years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, killed their own father. The show is presented by Sortsol theatre company and features Alfreda Bell as Maria, Phoebe Mercer as Angelina and Elizabeth Huskisson as Krestina. Huskisson is also the writer, director and producer and Lillian Waddington is the assistant director.
The story is split into 3 sections and is mostly told through physical theatre. The three sisters engage in repetitive and increasingly exaggerated movements as the unsettling narrative unfolds. The movement is visually impressive especially when the three sisters move in unison. That said, it does at times feel like a bit of a crutch and certain sections of movement could be cut down.
The dialogue is minimal but often presents itself as a booming chorus from the three sisters. Their voices are resonant and fill the space magnificently. At times the sisters speak in Russian. Although this has the potential to be effective, it ends up alienating the audience given the lack of overall dialogue.
The music is a real stand out. It is varied and punctuates every movement on stage. Moreover, the use of projection onto the back wall and white sheet is visually interesting and helps with the storytelling. I would say there could be more room for experimentation with lighting. Blackouts are used sparingly and effectively but the addition of red lights could really mark some of the more horrifying moments.
The aforementioned white sheet is used creatively throughout. When the three sisters sit down holding its corners we instantly know that they are at the dinner table. Later when it suffocates each sister in turn we feel the presence of their father.
Toska finishes with real footage of the Khachaturyan sisters, who five years later still await trial.
We are told that since 2017 domestic battery not resulting in hospitalisation is legal in Russia.
Overall, although Toska details a very specific story it is unfortunately representative of rampant misogyny in Russia and beyond. Sortsol tackle a very urgent subject with a lot of care, but at times the storytelling could be stronger.
Toska, The Hope Theatre, 21st April 2023