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Crime and Punishment in a squat

Last week I went to see a production of Crime and Punishment by the Ashes and Diamonds Theatre Company at the Oubliette squat in Mayfair (their website is currently being upgraded so hopefully there will be something to see there soon).

The production was a bit of a mixed bag, but overall I liked it because it really seemed to highlight both the good and bad aspects of Dostoevsky. The level of stylization and the surreal moments (accompanied by very effective music and sound-effects, at least for the first two-thirds of the performance), alongside some clever bits of updating, worked well. The use of five actors was also pretty well thought out — Sonia also played Lizaveta in the opening scenes, Alena Ivanovna doubled up as Raskolnikov’s mother, and Marmeladov became Sivdrigailov. The latter combination I thought was very suggestive, and overall it really brought out the transformation of the cast during the novel, something that had never really struck me before. Some of the acting was pretty good, Porfiry in particular.

On the downside, some aspects of the adaptation were, inevitably, problematic. An adaptation which has Svidrigailov but not Dunia is always going to end up having to talk rather too much about things that are never going to be seen, but on the other hand, can you leave Svidrigailov out? Svidrigailov himself was rather clown-like, which I’m not sure worked. But the main problem was that it was way too long and really seemed to run out of steam (as did the sounds)– they said it would last an hour and a half, but it was in fact two hours without a break, and it really felt like it.

There were two rooms (Raskolnikov’s room at one end, a desk which used for both the moneylender’s flat and Porfiry’s office at the other), and you had to choose one room to sit in (we chose the latter), and occasionally they closed the doors, so you did get a different perspective depending on which room you chose, but I wished they’d used the device more — the idea of being able to hear what was going on but not see it intrigued me, and it fits in so well with the theme of eavesdropping in the novel that it could have been  developed in quite an interesting way.

In a sense, this was a theme of the evening. There were some interesting ideas, but they never quite followed them through. One of the best moments for me was the scene where Sonia reads the Raising of Lazarus to Raskolnikov — a difficult moment, which can easily become (indeed, may be in its essence) histrionic or mawkish. For this scene, Raskolnikov was sat in the doorway between the two rooms, with Sonia on one side reading, and Svidrigailov on the other side and talking to Raskolnikov about their similarity — a really effective way of dealing with the fact that these two characters are simultaneously ‘real’ people who offer Raskolnikov different paths to follow, and literary devices, emanations of his psyche. Unfortunately, they only kept it up for a minute, and then Svidrigailov disappeared and Sonia finished the reading alone.

It really demonstrated the problem of adapting Dostoevsky’s novels for stage or screen. I don’t think playing it absolutely straight works at all. There are a lot of fantastic/grotesque/gothic elements in the novels, and turning them into costume drama entails ignoring those aspects completely, but they are essential to Dostoevsky’s meaning. So despite a few flaws and the drawn-out ending, credit is due to Ashes and Diamonds for creating such an inventive and thought-provoking production. I hope they find a new venue for their Hologram Rose Theatre soon.

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  1. Why I blog | Sarah J. Young

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