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Crime and Punishment at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Crime and Punishment - Photo credit Davor Tovarlaza at The Ocular Creative
Crime and Punishment – Photo credit Davor Tovarlaza at The Ocular Creative

I’ve read the novel or at least a translation of it, and although there are many advantages to being ruthless in deciding what to emphasise in bringing Crime and Punishment to the stage, I’m not sure this particular 90-minute version does it full justice. Two-and-a-half hours twice over works magnificently for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for instance, but in losing significant chunks of the narrative from the book on which this particular show is based, this production comes close to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The theology of the Russian Orthodox Church, or at least certain aspects of it, is brought to the forefront of proceedings right at the start by Porfiry (Stephen MacNeice), a police inspector, who wants to know whether Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester) ‘believes’ in the story of Lazarus, as told in St John’s Gospel. Later, Sonia (Christina Baston) would like to know the answer to the same question, together with the broader, “Do you believe in God?” In the former case it is a bizarre question to ask in the course of a murder investigation, and in the latter the questions are asked so often they lose all sense of intrigue, assuming there was any to begin with, by the end.

Fair play to Raskolnikov for not wavering in his answers: I daresay I might have given in to Sonia and furnished her with the ‘right’ response, in the hope she would stop asking the same question repeatedly ad nauseum. Deliberately not using my previous reading of the English translation of the Russian novel to help my comprehension of this production – suspending my disbelief at the door and all that – I couldn’t relate the Lazarus story to any aspect of the show’s plot, and therefore really have no idea why such a big deal was made of The Raising of Lazarus. It got to the point where my prevailing thought was that of a recent musical, Lazarus, composed by the late David Bowie.

The show ends abruptly, having asked the God question yet again. While the novel goes into some detail as to what happens to Raskolnikov – and indeed, Sonia – the audience here is left to think (or indeed not to) for themselves as to how the story might finish. Music swells unnecessarily at certain points, presumably with the aim of heightening emotions, but resulting only in it being very slightly difficult to hear the dialogue.

There’s variation in pace, sometimes going at speed; other times, awkward silences, in keeping with the scene, build tension to some extent. The whole thing, given Raskolnikov’s actions, could have been tenser. I have no hesitation in calling once more for a ceasefire on slow-motion action scenes – the one in this play was more comedy than tragedy, and I would be surprised if this was intentional. With a relatively sparse but by no means wholly minimal set, the scene changes were seamless and swift.

There is, mercifully, some resonance with the modern world. What happened took place in part because severe poverty is a contributing factor in the irrational conduct of those who suffer from it. There’s also a portrayal of alcoholism that got me thinking that some things don’t change even in our supposedly more enlightened times. When it wanted to be, it was a credible and compulsive play. But I would have liked more character development: I knew as much about this trio at the end as I did five minutes into the play. A reasonably good but all too subtle production.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Arrows & Traps Theatre returns to the Jack Studio with an award-winning adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s literary masterpiece Crime & Punishment.

A tense psychological thriller on the nature of evil, the story is set in the mind of a murderer, where he relives and explores the thoughts, ideas and feelings that drove him to his horrific crime.

Direct, haunting and relevant, the play becomes a psychological landscape which creates a thrilling journey into the mind of a killer and his search for redemption. This is an intimate and spiritual journey which seeks to unveil hidden dimensions of the human condition.

Four-time Off West End Award Nominated Arrows and Traps present Crime and Punishment at the Jack, following their critically-acclaimed and sell-out productions of Anna Karenina and The Gospel According To Philip.

Crime and Punishment
Listings Information
Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus
Tuesday 7 to Saturday 25 February 2017
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH

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