Theatre Review - Cold War

Anya Chalotra (Zula) and Luke Thallon (Wiktor) in Cold War [Marc Brenner]

Conor McPherson’s stunning stage adaptation of  Paweł Pawlikowski’s Academy Award-nominated 2018 film is a triumph. Traditional Polish songs, (orchestrations and choral arrangements by Simon Hale) is accompanied by music from Elvis Costello.


Cold War opens in Poland in 1949. Wiktor (Luke Thallon), a pianist and composer travels to remote villages with Irena (Alex Young) a music-archivist (and his lover).


They audition locals with the aim of staging a show of  authentic folk songs and dance to entertain party officials and use as nationalist propaganda. Wiktor arranges the melodies but longs to write his own work.


Zula (Anya Chalotra) is a talented singer with a mesmerising stage presence and Wiktor swiftly falls for her. Their creative collaboration is electrifying.


When the troupe travel to Berlin, he defects but she is persuaded by their self-serving manager, Kaczmarek (Elliot Levey) not to follow him.


Years later the pair unite in Paris. Although clearly still in love, Zula cannot settle. She misses home and is jealous of Wiktor’s female friends, including his former lover Juliette (Anastasia Martin). When Zula decides to return to Poland, Wiktor follows with catastrophic consequences.


Unashamedly romantic, Cold War is an epic tale of two lovers destroyed by trauma and torn apart by an autocratic state. Wiktor is damaged by his experiences during the Nazi invasion. Zula is fighting her own demons.


Throughout, the pair dream of escape. Thallon perfectly conveys Wiktor’s disaffection, while Chalotra is captivating as the wilful Zula.


Considerably longer than Pawlikowski’s 80-minute film, not one second is wasted in Rupert Goold’s superb production. This is jaw-droppingly good theatre from the opening scenes, the terrific ensemble’s set pieces (brilliantly choreographed by Ellen Kane) to the play’s devastating conclusion. 


Not to be missed. Bring tissues.


To January 27

Originally published in Islington Tribune