JOYCE MCMILLAN on CRIME AND PUNISHMENT at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 10.9.13.
4 stars ****
ALL CIVILISATIONS are founded, so we’re told, on the death of men; the only question is who is allowed to do the killing, on our behalf. In Dostoevsky’s great 1866 novel Crime And Punishment, the hero Raskolnikov – a failed law student half-crazed with hunger and poverty – decides to put his philosophical speculations on violence into practice, by killing a foul old female pawnbroker to whom he owes money; and it’s around the central narrative of Raskolnikov’s crime – his act of murder, his response, his eventual penitence – that the writer Chris Hannan and Citizens’ director Dominic Hill weave their magnficent new stage version of the novel, set to travel on, after Glasgow, to its co-producing theatres in Liverpool, and at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh.
On a stripped-back stage superbly lit by Chris Davey, with the cast of ten actors permanently on view – watching, muttering, twanging musical instruments, changing clothes – Hannan’s Raskolnikov, played with terrific subtlety and intensity by Adam Best, transforms his long internal monologues into mighty stage soliloquies, arguing with the audience just as Raskolnikov argues with the universe. And in a brilliant dramatisation of one of the central truths of the novel, Hannan and Hill make it clear that for all his solitary rantings, Raskolnikov is never really alone; the other actors become a street-full of people muttering their dissent, and – on occasions, in Nikola Kodjabashia’s superb musical score – gathering their pawn-shop fragments of sound to become a magnificent orthodox choir.
There are moments, towards the end, when the pace flags slightly, and the conversations become a shade introverted. These are minor flaws, though, in a fluent, beautiful, and profoundly theatrical account of one of the great stories of world literature; and one that also boasts a breathtaking supporting performance from the wonderful Jessica Hardwick as Sonja, the fragile prostitute whose selfless love opens up what might, for Raskolnikov, finally be a second chance of life.