A rock musical version of Dostoevsky’s famous novel ‘Crime and Punishment’ seems (aptly) a rather novel enough idea already, but Gods and Monsters Theatre have certainly surpassed expectations. Their abridged adaptation, entitled Crime and Punishment: The Rock Musical, takes the bare bones of the intimidating piece of Russian literature and adds some dancing student revolutionaries; flashing disco lights and vintage fog machines. Chuck in a few catchy tunes about murder and the notion of freedom into the mix and what you get is an entertaining and enjoyable piece for a discerning audience.
The plot sees its protagonist Raskolnikov journey from naïve dreamer through his moral journey to redemption, following a life-altering opportunistic decision. The story touches on philosophical and political ideologies concerning power and control, and no audience member can fail to notice the irony of such a play being performed in a space dominated by the nearby City Hall.
The ensemble of ten performers multi-role to bring the characters to life, and there is good cohesion when the group performs all together. Alec Porter’s portrayal of Raskolnikov is particularly noteworthy – he captures well the essence of a man grappling with his idealistic thoughts and the norms of social convention and morality.
All of the ensemble are talented singers and dancers, but there are some performances that wouldn’t go amiss in a West End musical. Zac Hamilton and Rachel Delooze’s talent, in particular, is made apparent in some of the closing ballads.
Although a particular choreographed sequence with communist flags is certainly a striking moment (with added amusement for those familiar with Dostoevsky’s anti-Communist stance) the direction is lacklustre at times – a few of the musical numbers are too static and seemingly un-choreographed which loses the momentum built up in-between songs by the frequently clever, characterful dialogue.
The production would benefit from a more intricate set – the blandness of Philip Eddolls’ design forces the piece to rest heavily on the shoulders of the performers, though it was good to see full use being made of the multi-levelled construction dominating the space.
The smoke effects are a little overpowering and their near-constant use lessens the dramatic effect, but the lighting displays – with lots of flashing colours reminiscent of the early days of disco – are used to good purpose throughout.
Both dramatic and entertaining, the clash of highbrow philosophical discourse regarding the transcendence of bourgeois ideology with lowbrow song lyrics set to modern rock music gives us a Les Misérables for pre-Revolutionary Russia. It’s just too good to miss.
Crime and Punishment: The Rock Musical is playing at The Scoop until September 25.
Photo: Sheila Burnett