JOYCE MCMILLAN on NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND at the Citizens’ Circle Studio, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 13.9.13.
4 stars ****
On the main stage of the Citizens’ Theatre, Chris Hannan’s great new version of Crime And Punishment powers on, offering its famous nightmare vision of the extremes to which one young man is driven by poverty, despair, and a sense of exclusion. And up in the Circle Studio, the young Visiting Company presents a brief but thrilling companion-piece, in this new 70-minute stage version of Dostoevsky’s earlier novella Notes From The Underground, in which a similar anti-hero, now aged 40, considers his rambling notes on the years of his youth, when, as a socially inept minor clerk in an obscure government department, he sought friendship and solace on the streets of St. Petersburg, but ended up mired in self-disgust.
In a bold theatrical stroke, Debbie Hannan’s powerful production exposes the contemporary quality of Dostoevsky’s obsession with self-examination and self-presentation by making Samuel Keefe’s Underground Man into an obsessive user of electronic and social media. His older self appears on screen meditating on his need to retell the story, his younger self compulsively records his interactions with others on his smartphone and tablet.
Yet none of this would work without the high-risk intelligence and hair-trigger emotional intensity of Samuel Keefe’s central performance as the Underground Man; or the quiet, insistent presence of Millie Turner as Lisa, the young prostitute whom he both desires and abuses. And as a debut production, the whole show is put together with memorable style and flair; with fine lighting by Alex Fernandez and soundtrack by Andrew McGregor adding to the impact of what seems like a fiercely contemporary warning about a lost generation obsessed with image and status, and increasingly tempted to vent their simmering sense of rage and humiliation on the most vulnerable and blameless who happen to cross their path.