Crime and Punishment

From the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; adaptation by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus
Arrows & Traps Theatre
The Jack Studio Theatre

Christopher Tester with Christina Baston Credit: Davor Tovarlaza @ The Ocular Creative
Christopher Tester Credit: Davor Tovarlaza @ The Ocular Creative

In their adaptation of Dostoyevsky's complex novel, Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus have created a neat tragedy. They have reduced the number of characters by more than half and pared away at the different storylines to leave the drama of a man in turmoil.

Raskolnikov, the central character of this seminal novel, is a kind and educated man who believes life has treated him unjustly. He lives in penury in a stinking room unable to get work as a teacher.

When Raskolnikov crosses paths with criminal investigator Porfiry, who is looking into the murder of a pawnbroker and her sister, it emerges that Porfiry is familiar with an article written by Raskolnikov in which he asserts that extraordinary men are entitled to commit crimes in order to achieve great things.

"All great leaders are criminal [otherwise] they would never rise above the masses," Raskolnikov says, citing the mighty Napoleon as an example.

As the story progresses, through flashbacks, police interviews and with Raskolnikov soliloquising, we learn that Raskolnikov committed the double murder.

It is also clear that he is not so much tortured by guilt as by the fact that he can no longer justify his actions and this is the psychological affliction that torments him.

Porfiry gets closer and closer to identifying Raskolnikov as the murderer but he does not have enough evidence to charge him. He urges him to confess to get a more lenient sentence and Raskolnikov speaks directly to the audience, appealing to us as if we are the jury.

"We have to correct nature, don't we?" asks Raskolnikov, every inch the modern scientific thinker.

The murder of the avaricious pawnbroker was a crime but it was a good deed. "There was one death for a thousand lives".

The final shreds of logical argument disintegrate in a moving and powerful scene when Raskolnikov confesses his guilt. "I wanted to be Napoleon," he says. "It made sense. Now it is nonsense…"

Raskolnikov's realisation that he is not the extraordinary man he thought himself to be is pitiful.

Campbell and Columbus have created a gripping narrative that is heavily flecked with religious imagery.

The story is delivered with great clarity. The staging is well-paced with changes of scene, flashbacks and nightmares signposted by effective lighting changes and an interesting choice of music used sparingly.

Raskolnikov is portrayed with nuance and passion by Christopher Tester.

Stephen MacNeice and Christina Baston both multi-role; MacNeice makes a wily police inspector in his principal role whilst Baston's Sonya, is beautifully played. There is never a suspicion that we are getting short measurers with either.

Lovers of Dostoyevsky's 1866 novel may find it difficult to accept such a radical distillation of the work, but there can be no denying its punch.

Suitable for 14+. Running time 90 minutes, with no interval.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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