Crime and Punishment Lyceum Theatre

You immediately realise that you are there to see a new interpretation of a classic work when you enter the auditorium and there is the stage, wings and backstage fully visible, cluttered with a seemingly random selection of props. The impression is strengthened when, some 10 minutes before the performance’s stated start time, the cast start wandering on, as though they were in a rehearsal room.

Perhaps it should not come as a surprise when the work in question is classic piece of Russian literature translated many times, each of which has doubtless been adapted for the stage; and there have been over 25 film adaptations too. So, for the company presenting Crime & Punishment at the Royal Lyceum the challenge clearly was to do something different. I have to say, they have succeeded.

Dostoyevsky’s original novel, first published in 1866, runs to over 500 pages and explores the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, a destitute ex-student in St. Petersburg who devises and carries out a plan to kill an unprincipled pawnbroker for her valuables. Rodion – or Rodya as he is known to his family – argues, mostly with himself, that with the pawnbroker’s money he can perform good deeds to balance out the crime, while “ridding the world of a worthless vermin”. He also wants to commit murder to test his own theory that some people are naturally capable of doing such things, and even have the right to do so. It is, in essence, a ‘who-dun-it’, except that from the start we know the answer. The work in reality explores right and wrong, and Rodya’s interaction with his mother and sister, his friends and acquaintances, and of course the police.

In adapting the work for the stage, Chris Hannan, as he tells us in the programme, has omitted parts of the original story as well as around a quarter of the characters, in order to focus on the main protagonists. Moreover, the 10 members of the cast play 15 different parts, which at a couple of points had me struggling to keep up! The props, which included a variety of tables and chairs, doors on wheels, a sofa and a bed (and lots of ‘vodka’ bottles!) were moved in and out of centre stage by the cast themselves and, along with some clever lighting, ensured that your attention was always focussed on the characters speaking. The cast even played a variety of instruments – including two ‘honky-tonk’ style pianos and a double bass – to provide the incidental music and effects!

Although written 148 years ago, the story explores topics which are still relevant today, making for a thought provoking performance. The ‘stripped back’ staging helps keep your attention throughout this fairly long performance (2 hours 45 minutes). Although a little ‘heavy’ in some respects, it is an excellent production which I can thoroughly recommend.

Charlie Cavaye