If you’ve ever read Crime and Punishment now’s your chance to get sweets pelted at you by none other than Dostoyevsky himself. The Russian luminary shows all the signs of a jaded lifetime in this new production by the Caligula’s Alibi Company.
The slick guitar leanings of Jonathan Hopwood introduce the cynically brilliant Dostoyevsky (played with aplomb by Jonnie Bayfield). The author is living in a purgatorial apartment down the hall from Leo Tolstoy, living off benefits for his epilepsy. Bayfield, who plays the part slightly deranged, cracks jokes that go down like lead balloons: “If you want a good ending add a car chase to the end of Great Expectations”. It keeps the production’s literary-smarts in check without being over-bookish.
The arrival of The Bureaucrat (a deft Adam Colborne) prompts an investigation into the writer’s life, priming him for existential judgment. Therefore, the performance acts out his most autobiographical work: The Idiot.
Initially, the contemporary stylings in this staging, directed by Bayfield and Will Cowell, suggest new possibilities to be unlocked in Dostoyevsky’s novel. Instead, the action becomes, disappointingly and literally, by-the-book. The intense and unblinking Stewart Agnew coming to life as antagonist Rogozhin, violently obsessed with the beautiful Natasya, played by Jessica-Lee Hopkins.
The problem is that once it commits to playing the novel, it loses its deconstructionist edge. That line might have been better toted if the company enlisted the visual sensibilities of a stage designer who could blast the text’s imagery and posit it in new ways.
Furthermore, once you are playing Dostoyevsky, you are playing Dostoyevsky. What once conveyed the cursed state of Man – the sad and feckless thing it is to have free will – is beyond the abilities of the players. This piece of contemporary theatre is ultimately crushed under the classic novel it’s trying to manipulate.
Idiots runs at Pleasance Courtyard (Beside) until 31 Aug. For more information and tickets, see the Fringe website.