There’s a brazen, wonderfully self-conscious theatricality in how director Dominic Hill approaches Chris Hannan’s new stage adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s iconic novel, Crime and Punishment. It can be seen in the lack of a rising curtain to signify the start, with cast and some stage-crew initially wandering onto the bare-walled stage in dribs and drabs to chat and seemingly get things ready, all while the audience are finding their own seats. It can be seen in how that same cast, when not involved in the main action, act like a rowdy chorus at the back of the stage, providing mocking comment, musical soundtrack or sound effects as and when required. And, of course, it can be felt in Adam Best’s performance as student drop-out Raskolnikov, as he boldly addresses the audience directly from the start.
Suspension of disbelief can be dramatically fertile ground, however; this is no literal, historically-accurate recreation of 19th century St Petersburg, but in emotional terms in hits the bulls-eye. The inherent poverty of this world is realised in the disparate collection of ill-matching, second-hand chairs and tables, a springless couch, and in the characters’ worn and rumpled clothing–some of which looks as if it could stand up on its own. And the inner confusion in Raskolnikov’s mind is ably augmented by the percussive babble from the rest of the cast, in a soundscape brilliantly orchestrated by composer Nikola Kodjabashia.
Raskolnikov is driven by an arrogant self-belief in his own greatness to commit a double murder; as this happens in the first 15 minutes, with a breath-taking abstract simplicity, the theatrical meat of the story is in what follows. Not the detective story, although that forever lurks on the edge of the stage in the shape of Porfiry Petrovich (an excellent George Costigan, who balances the humour and tragedy of the piece well), but in Raskolnikov’s total and absolute failure to deal with the psychological consequences of his actions.
In some respects, Crime and Punishment can almost be seen as a rewriting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, albeit with all the mental anguish and procrastination coming after the murder has been committed rather than before. Many of Raskolnikov’s long internal monologues from the book are here transformed into mighty stage soliloquies, performed by Best with both subtlety and intensity. Yet the most poignant fact at the heart of this production is that, for all Raskolnikov might think he is alone in the universe, the reality of the staging ensures that he never is. The rest of the 10-strong cast are always there in the background, in the shadows, or right beside him, ready to catch him should he fall.