In The Idiot Dostoyevsky imagines what would happen if a Russian Christ, a perfectly good man, were to enter the superficial world of Russian high society with its love affairs, and obsessions with money and sexual conquest. It’s a complex novel, exploring morality and the struggle between good and evil, which manifests itself in the relationship between the saintly Myshkin and the turbulent Rogozin, in physical illness and in the nature of love itself. It’s a difficult novel to translate successfully to the stage, especially when the stage in question is the diminutive one above the Lord Stanley pub, but Theatre Collection, under Artistic Director Victor Sobchak and Producer Shaban Arifi, have more than managed to pull it off.
The tale begins with Prince Myshkin’s return to St Petersburg after his lengthy stay in a Swiss sanatorium. He quickly makes friends with the unstable, fantastically stereotypical Russian Rogozin, and becomes infatuated with two women. It’s here his problems begin; Nastassya Filipovna, the former mistress of a very wealthy man, has numerous rival suitors, including Rogozin, while the young Aglaya seems the picture of innocence. Myshkin’s torment and his physical decline are powerfully portrayed by Adam Rojko, who effortlessly maintains the simple, fundamentally good personality of the Prince throughout the performance. In contrast, Oliver Callaway as Rogozin blends brutishness, brotherly friendship with Myshkin, and passionate love for Filipovna into a believably complex, tormented figure. The lead women, though, are less convincing; Jessica Preddy’s Nastassya conveys something of the deep psychological sufferings of her character, but ultimately she lacks the presence of a femme fatale, while Poppy Corby-Tuech never really makes the leap from quiet, naïve childhood to obsessed lover. The rest of the cast are strikingly well cast; George C. Francis is perfect as the miserly, balding civil servant Ganya, as is Laura-Lisa Saunders as Aglaya’s giggly sister Adelaide and Gareth Davies’s squinting General Yepanchin.
There are, of course, some concessions and trade-offs thanks to the constraints of the space; the lighting is quite frankly amateurish, with sudden, miss-timed dimming to a very low light level for “night” scenes leaving one unable to see very much at all, while Rogozin’s bellowing is too much for the small stage. What is very impressive, though, is what Theatre Collection has been able to do in this small venue. This production of The Idiot is more powerful than many less intimate performances with bigger budgets and more prestigious, larger stages thanks to the dedication and energy of the cast and production team. April will see them taking on an adaptation of Gogol’s The Government Inspector, and I’ll certainly be back for more of Sobchak’s ambitious takes on Russian classics.
The Idiot is at the Lord Stanley pub in Camden until 7 April. For more information, visit the Theatre Collection website.