So. An adaptation of a Dostoyevsky novel. Tough gig. As the opportunity has never arisen, I have not read any of his work, but I am lead to believe this particular text is quite dense in its content. Therefore, I am not analysing how well they transposed the text to stage; I am solely concentrating on the performance.
I will point out now, there were some elements of the piece I really liked. When it was done well, and not ever so slightly reminiscent of amateur dramatics, the actors performing the sound scape was interesting to watch. Similarly, when changing the piece’s location, some sets worked better than others. Which is how I felt about the show as a whole: when the piece got it right, it was dazzling.
As I said to my companions, there is a way of doing a Brechtian style of theatre (the complete set deconstruction, the alienation between character and audience, the working actor) where it doesn’t look messy. This at times, however, did. Given the successful run at The Citizens in Glasgow, transposing to the Lyceum was always going to be a tricky, if for nothing else than its renowned demographic. After a discussion, the penny dropped that size of the stage is actually a bit smaller at the Lyceum, which explains why a certain moment happened during the piece.
To indicate different buildings and rooms, doors on wheels would be revolved around the space depending on what was required. When Raskolnikov goes to at last kill the old woman, the doors revolve as they go through to the back room (interesting – they didn’t do that the first time). One of the doors caught the presumably unintended attention of Raskolnikov (Adam Best), who moved out the way. Purely based on how the actors had already responded to the set by this point, this stuck out as a mistake. Naughty.
Adam Best’s portrayal of Raskolnikov was very intriguing, battling between his sanity and overwhelming guilt. (As is the way with Russian names, I gave up trying to figure out whether it was Roger or Rodya because the pronunciation kept changing per actor). However, Obioma Ugoala’s performance as Razumihin, for me, stole the piece. Perhaps because his character is, in essence, the happiest, or his baritone voice being naturally the loudest, there was something so enchanting about watching “the Bear” pace the stage.
Fundamentally, however, I question the purpose of the female characters the most.
- The old woman pawnbroker is killed by Raskolnikov. Fine.
- The mother of Sonya (mesmerisingly performed by Cate Hamer) loses her mind with the poverty her husband’s alcoholism and gambling has brought the family, including turning their daughter to prostitution. OK.
- Raskolnikov’s sister, Dunya (Ameira Darwish) is engaged for money rather than love. Right.
And then there’s Sonya.
Yes, the story is of its time, so of course the plight of women in the late 19th century aren’t particularly pleasant. In the case of Sonya (Jessica Hardwick), she just happens to be the only person to listen to Raskolnikov. She walks with him to Siberia only to leave him once he arrives, having been ignored by him the entire journey. Of everyone on stage, her story seemed the most intriguing, and yet it was barely touched on in any great detail.
Why did she listen to Raskolnikov?
Why was prostitution the only answer?
Where is the battle between keeping your faith and sleeping with strangers in a cemetery?
Why didn’t she react when he held an axe above her head, ready to kill her?
What purpose did following him to Siberia serve?
My last annoyance were the interrogation scenes. I could see they were attempting something surreal – making Raskolnikov see things that weren’t there – behaving in a manner that no one would believe. But it felt lack-lustre. When those moments worked, it was incredible to watch. And then it dipped. Another bizarre encounter. And then it plummeted. It felt under-rehearsed/planned rather than spontaneous (which I think is what they were going for).
Overall, my main gripe with the piece was that it didn’t go far enough. With its message of “how far humanity might go when driven by disillusionment, and whether any crime can be justified by a higher purpose“, I left painfully underwhelmed. This is where social commentaries for me go wrong (see Realism): they are of their time. You can’t bring them into the present day and think that people will immediately get on board:
- Killing people for the greater good: the Batman shooting, school-shootings, Boston bombings, the knife-attacks in China, the Norway killer, suicide-bombers.
- Children and parents turning to prostitution or drug trafficking simply to put food on the table.
- Families marrying their children to obtain wealth.
- People pawning their goods for a burst of temporary money.
These situations are still very present and real. It angers people (or at least should do) that some are forced into these predicaments.
So why did I leave the theatre feeling empty?