Crime and Punishment is the immense novel by Dostoyevsky first published in The Russian Messenger magazine in instalments in 1866. For their current show at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, Arrows and Traps theatre company are using the award-winning adaption of the novel by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus, which edits the story into 90 minutes and focuses on the main characters and themes of crime, redemption and salvation.
The play opens on a very tense man being interrogated by a detective. A double murder has taken place and the main character Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester) seems to know quite a lot about it. There is no real mystery behind who committed the crime. Even the detective Porfiry (Stephen MacNeice) is pretty clear from the outset who has committed the crime. The play is more concerned with what is going on inside Raskolnikov’s head. On one hand he is the intelligent law student who has studied the psychology of criminals, a decent man capable of great kindness; on the other hand he is the man who has committed this heinous crime, and remains of the belief that it was justified. His belief is that some extraordinary men like himself are above the law, and can choose to take the lives of others for the benefit of society.
Flashbacks show us what happened in the lead up to the murders, and we then see the murders by axe in a very effective slow-motion sequence. The theme of Lazarus is referred to, the miracle performed by Jesus whereby Lazarus is brought back to life after death. The question is, does this criminal deserve salvation?
Tester, practically on stage throughout, is very impressive as the tortured soul. It is intriguing to watch the mind games between him and Porfiry, who face each other in an intimate, almost collegial relationship. Christina Baston is the third actor, who takes all the female roles. I found myself more annoyed with her, wondering why the virginally-dressed prostitute Sonia was so quick to forgive Raskolnikov for his crimes, and proclaim her love for him. I guess she too suffers from the shame of her position and believes that by clinging on to him she may gain salvation too.
One other distraction was hearing a version of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black on the soundtrack. This anachronism did not sit well with me.
Otherwise, Ross McGregor’s direction is taut and atmospheric. I liked the way the dry ice hung almost still above the stage, despite the fact that my eyes and throat started to sting before the end. The three actors are all new to Arrows and Traps and I feel they will return in other productions. I am looking forward to seeing more plays by McGregor and this company, and I am pleased to note that they will return to the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre in the autumn.
I saw Crime and Punishment on a press ticket. Crime and Punishment is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 25th February 2017. For more details and to book, see the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre and the Arrows and Traps websites.
Photos by Davor Tovarlaza @ The Ocular Creative.