Demons

Fyodor Dostoyevsky adapted by Peter Sturm

Split Moon Theatre Company

St Leonard's Church

From 26 October 2017 to 11 November 2017

Review by Keith Mckenna

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Peter Sturm’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Demons is certainly distinctive. There are murders, suicides, duels and young characters ferociously arguing about God.

It is presented in promenade style with a raucous version of Brecht’s "Alabama Song" thrown in for good measure.

The determination to give us scenes in every section of St Leonard's Church was as restless as its young revolutionaries.

Barely had we settled into the hard church seats to watch something in the sanctuary than we were off to the church hall and then to the gallery and onwards.

It was on the long march that I overheard someone say, “the only clear things about this play are the instructions about where we are going next.”

The confusion began early when we watched a court scene enacted in the sanctuary where poor acoustics made it difficult to hear. I sat in the sanctuary and could only hear about eighty percent of a scene about real and alleged relationships. That was not a good start.

Even the court setting made no sense. Were they being put on trial for these relationships?

When you did get to hear what was said, it seemed such a stodgy mouthful you marvelled the actors could deliver it.

Attempts to update the play or make it seem familiar just made it seem odder. For no obvious reason, there was a flickering TV and references to hidden uranium.

When the young revolutionaries held a meeting, someone proposes they talk about “tuition fees and a protest march.”

Although this evokes memories of the 2010 student protests, what follows is a debate about whom they should murder, which is not a topic that has cropped up very often in contemporary student circles.

But then lots of unexplained things happen in this show. Why were two of the main characters dressed in identical black jackets covered in safety pins? And who was the woman with the stocking over her head that kept popping in to have sex with a character?

The play had assembled some great actors, in particular Samual Collins, but when the things they say are difficult to hear or even understand then the actor’s ability is wasted.

Among the last words of the play are, “long live the great thought.”

Maybe it meant something. I don’t know. By then I was weary with the three-hour walkabout and had a great thought about sleeping in my bed.