A theatrical rendition of Dostoyevksy’s The Idiot is not a performance one would attend without at least a few preconceived notions and possibly some indoctrinated ideas of the novel, perhaps stemming from A-Level English Literature days. The lengthy tome, although one of the most widely read (though not necessarily one of the most admired) Russian novels, is not one often seen on stage, owing perhaps in large part to the difficulty of condensing so much material into manageable portions.
Abridging such a novel and adapting it for the stage is no mean feat, and the end result it is overwhelmingly good. The play, just shy of 50 minutes on either side of an interval, deconstructs the novel cohesively and, possibly more importantly given the production company’s public house premises, accessibly. Importantly though, this accessibility does not come at the cost of character nuances falling by the wayside or any discernible loss of plot depth. The director Victor Sobchak has managed to piece together and select just the right moments from the novel, and the narrative flows fluidly and pacedly; there is no sense of time misspent. It does not appear that this is the first time the Theatre Collection stages an adaptation of The Idiot and perhaps much of what makes this such a solid staging comes from the experience of having gone through a previous run; and this is indeed welcome.
The space is both a challenge and possibly a blessing. It tempers the performances, as the physical constraints of the small space limit the scope for overdone acting and overblown drama; rather subtleties of performances and delicate expressions come to the fore, highlighting the director’s evident experience with the space as well as the actors’ talent.
Although the space is interesting, it is not so straightforward to dress. Although, I’m sure the few props were part of a well-intended idea was to enrich the otherwise barren stage, the overall effect falls short of intention and ends up adding an an air of unplanned kitsch. In my view, a pure black box would have worked better and further highlighted the actors’ performances even further.
Great care and attention has clearly been paid to the casting process and the actors are well cast. Even the non-central characters have moments of real beauty and craft that tie everyone’s performances together.
Prince Myshkin is a soft-spoken character that Dostoyevsky has wireframed as a supposed representation of goodness and honesty. Adam Rojko’s performance is as soft-spoken as the author probably intended; it is thoughtful and precise without forgetting the innocence that defines the character. There is a lot of truth in Rojko’s performance and it is when he is almost alone on stage that he shines the most.
Rogozhin, is supposed to exude the kind of desperation one can only experience when faced with raw and uninhibited love that is largely unreciprocated. During his time on stage, Oliver Callaway’s performance definitely delivers on the expectations of a feverish and hopeless character; he is virile and on the good side of loud. The way he carries his body on stage is determined and his rage is meticulous.
Jessica Preddy plays the beautiful but emotionally impaired Nastassya and deconstructs the character’s past and motivations very well, and makes it easy to see the allure that draws men to her. There are definite moments where her expressions delightfully show a powerful combination of the weight of a lifetime of regretted decisions and possible exploitation together with a resoluteness only a strong driven character is able to have.
The other beautiful female lead, Aglaya is solidly played by Poppy Corby-Tuech. She strikes an impression of quiet disposition and social restraint that is purposeful and lasts throughout the play. Her interactions with the Prince, especially towards the end, are genuine and there is a real sense of compassion.
Overall, the Theatre Collection has once again staged an accessible, energetic and interesting performance. It definitely makes me look forward to the next production of the collective, which happens to be yet another splendid work of Russian Literature, Nikolai Gogol’s, The Government Inspector