Royal Lyceum Theatre
Tue 22 Sept – Sat 9 Nov 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson
Absorbing and intelligent, the new adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Chris Hannan and directed by Dominic Hill makes for powerful entertainment at the Lyceum.
Dostoyevsky’s novel, despite the title, has very little about the criminal act and virtually nothing about the punishment, being mostly an exploration of the motives behind crime and the nature of guilt.
To a great extent the story takes place inside the head of Raskolnikov, the miserable, penniless student who commits murder as much as an experiment as anything else. This presents severe and obvious challenges to any potential dramatist. Chris Hannan’s adaptation is almost entirely successful and it is difficult to see how it could be done better.
Adam Best’s towering central performance as Raskolnikov is necessarily the centre of the play. The problem of staging large amounts of internal monologue has been resolved partly through a style that is not always entirely naturalistic, but seems instead to make his internal state external and physical. He is never less than compelling and manages to command the audience’s attention and even evoke a degree of sympathy.
Jessica Hardwick as Sonya, the self-sacrificing prostitute who represents the central character’s only possibility of salvation, does equally well in a role which is symbolic rather than realistic. By any sensible assessment, her devotion to Raskolnikov is completely unfathomable, but she is completely convincing.
The production, in association with the Glasgow Citizens and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Theatres, benefits from a uniformly excellent supporting cast. Cate Hamer is outstanding in a variety of roles, while Obioma Ugoala shines as Raskolnikov’s friend Razumikhin.
Exceptionally well paced and well judged
George Costigan is tremendous both as the examining magistrate Porfiry Petrovich and the drunkard Marmeladov. These performances epitomise the dark humour of Dostoevsky which is often ignored but which Hannan brings out. Perhaps this is carried a little too far at times, as a couple of the minor characters are played mainly for laughs and are a little one-dimensional as a result. On the whole, however, it is an extremely successful approach, being an effective antidote to the bleakness which otherwise threatens to overwhelm occasionally.
Dominic Hill’s direction is exceptionally well paced and well judged. The decision to have all the cast on stage throughout means that there is a real ensemble feel and keeps delays between scenes to a minimum; the device of using the cast as a kind of Greek chorus is all the more effective for being used sparingly. The performers are also used to add Nikola Kodjabashia’s striking music and sound.
Colin Richmond’s design is stripped back to the extreme, with the back wall of the theatre and all of the lights clearly visible, and with any necessary furniture moved by the cast. Not only does this make for an atmospheric and versatile staging, it is also makes a refreshing change from those Lyceum productions which use imposing revolving sets simply because they can.
Everyone will have their own criticisms of any adaptation of such a huge and enduring work – the absence of the villainous Svidrigailov diminishes the story, for example, and means that the second half perhaps does not have the impact of the first, but it would be impossible to include everything. Not only does this version remind us of the enduring power and influence of the book (not least in the way that the battle of wits between Porfiry and Raskolnikov was the obvious inspiration for Columbo) but it also succeeds brilliantly in its own right.
Running time 2 hrs 45 mins
Run ends Sat 9 November 2013
Tue – Sat: 7.45 pm; Wed, Sats matinees: 2.30 pm.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9AX
Tickets from: www.lyceum.org.uk