Three theatres from Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh have co-produced one of Dostoyevsky’s greatest works, Crime & Punishment, the story of a poverty-stricken student, Raskolnikov, and his psychological passage of self-persuasion to commit murder unrepentantly. We witness other characters interact with his semi-present existence, and his delirious fear but also strange desire to be caught.
According to Raskolnikov (Adam Best), ‘nothing is more bewildering to a man than finding out his lack of greatness.’ He believes that everyone is either ‘ordinary’ or ‘extraordinary’. The ordinary have no right to contravene the law; they must live a life of strict obedience, unlike the extraordinary who can surpass the law to achieve new things. The English translation of the title Crime & Punishment does not translate well. The Russian implies a transgression, a crossing over, which isn’t found in the word ‘crime’. According to this logic, great men are criminals because they challenge old ideas.
In this sense writer Chris Hannan and director Dominic Hill are both criminals. The characters in the performance are remarkably in keeping with the novel, each uniquely interesting and occasionally modernised ever so slightly, for example the addition of John Lennon sunglasses worn by Raskolnikov.
Each scene unfolds effortlessly like a circus act, with revolving doors appearing in front of the protagonists eyes before he can decide whether to walk through or not. The doors are symbolic of this transgression, this crossing the line towards murder. Microphones with heavy breathing are incredibly effective, as are the looming shadows which skulk around on the theatre walls, shrinking the audience. Smoke shrouds the ankles of the penurious characters, symbolizing their hellish lives. Instruments on stage played by the cast provide an intense backdrop, mimicking the movement of Raskolnikov’s mind and echoing the audiences’ leaping hearts, as blood is splattered across the stage.
Like Raskolnikov’s sinister smile, there is a psychopathic humour to the performance. Special mention must go to Cate Hamer, who plays four completely different characters superbly, especially Katerina Ivanovna, the despairing wife of an alcoholic. In a mercurial state of laughing and crying, she makes both positions seem irrational, as she flairs into shiver-inducing fits of utter hopelessness and anger.
The play is destined to be somewhat self-contained in its Russian nineteenth century context, its macabre world of consumption and prostitution. However, a semi-awareness of the audience contributes to the perplexed state of mind Raskolnikov lives in, never knowing who knows what. He is consistently suspicious of other characters and partakes in some fantastically suspense scenes with Porfiry Petrovich (George Costigan) who claims that ‘there are no witnesses’ whilst looking directly at the audience. The production reveals Raskolnikov’s mind to the perfect degree.
Raskolnikov asserts that ‘we all need a place to go. If the only place is your mind then I’m not sure you should go’.