Chances are you’ve heard of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s literary masterpiece Crime and Punishment. Written during his ‘mature’ period, it tells the tale of Rashkolnikov (Christopher Tester) a man who for reasons of his own, kills Alyona (a pawnbroker) and her sister. Through the selfless love of Sonia (Christina Baston), a young woman who “sells herself” for the sake of her family, Rashkolnikov learns that not every “right” thing is logical and finds the serenity that only comes with being totally honest about his past.
Russian novels are not known for their brevity, but under the expert hands of Mariliyn Campbell and Curt Colombus, they have adapted C&P so that it is succinct without losing its essence. It is also edited so that all the main roles can be played by three actors. In short, it is a miracle of economy, nuanced yet straight to the point.
Christopher Tester plays Rashkolnikov, the proto-existentialist anti-hero. Trapped in an existence of borderline poverty and living in the most cramped of conditions, Rashkolnikov adopts a Nietzschean rationale and convinces himself of the necessity for ending Alyona’s life, who he feels takes advantage of people in dire straits. Tester does a good job of fleshing out this man of contradictions, who is capable of the most monstrous acts of violence, as well as the most generous charity.
Stephen MacNeice plays a number of parts – including Sonia’s alcoholic father Marmeladov and attorney Porfiry Petrivotch. Porfiry is very much like Columbo, coming across like he’s slow on the uptake and ambling along, but in reality he’s probably a couple of steps ahead of Rashkolnikov.
Last but not least there’s Christina Baston. As well as playing Alyona and her kind sister Lizaveta, she takes on the role of Rashkolnikov’s mother Pulcheria and of course, Sonia herself. Playing someone who is essentially a saint-like figure isn’t easy, but Baston instills in this beatific individual a sense of ‘decency’ that springs from her empathy and compassion for others. It is this quality in her that Rashkolnikov initially finds hard to reconcile, but ultimately saves him. Conversely, as the elderly Alyona, Baston transforms before her eyes into a sort of female Shylock who only finds meaning and satisfaction in the minutiae of profitmaking.
Under Ross McGregor’s direction, Crime and Punishment is a comprehensible distillation of the acclaimed novel (with themes intact) and an enjoyable viewing experience – even for those with no prior knowledge of the book. In addition, there are little ‘flourishes’ for the discerning viewer – my favourite being the use of 19th-style instrumental versions of Radiohead’s Exit Music and Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black. Subtle, but effective.
© Michael Davis 2017
Crime and Punishment runs at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 25th February 2017.