Seldom has inner conflict been so visibly portrayed than in Dominic Hill’s production of Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment at the Lyceum Theatre. A co-production with Glasgow’s Citizens and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Theatre, the piece crackles with an intensity which keeps a stranglehold on the audience’s attention, from its first foreshadowing of murder, through to its final retribution.
Adam Best, through a convincing performance punctuated by physical tics and stilted speech patterns, drags impoverished Raskolnikov’s turmoil to the surface: at times lucid and enlightened, at others deluded and hysterical. And all the while, the rest of the characters in Dostoyevsky’s forensic dissection of morality lurk at the back of the stage, goading and deriding him as he continues on his fateful journey.
Dominic Hill’s direction is brave, stark and effective. Coupled with the adaptation by Chris Hannan, Crime & Punishment strips away the risk of any potential deference to the original text, instead presenting a highly theatrical and gripping presentation of its subject: one man’s self-destructive battle between intellect and instinct.
So, instead of what could have been a stilted, cap-in-hand tribute to the classic novel, what we have instead is an adaptation which feels satisfyingly contemporary and fresh. Like the character of Raskolnikov, the stage is bare and exposed, with the cast shifting tables and wheeling on doors to represent the various locations where the events unfold. They then remain, seated close to the bare rear wall, accompanying the scenes with suitably folkish, almost vaudevillian music.
Hill keeps a tight grip on the pace throughout, and his cast work hard. Most notably Best, even when, post-interval, he turns one of Raskolnikov’s inner monologues into something approaching a stand-up routine. This pitch dark strand of humour surfaces on several occasions, most notably in George Costigan’s twinkle-toed interrogation scene, which would be equally at home in a Tarantino movie as it is in a stage adaptation of a Russian literary classic.
Most of the ten-strong cast play multiple roles, and their prowess avoids any potential confusion which could have arisen. Best and Costigan are standouts, and — although the female roles are generally relegated to victims and whores — Cate Hamer brings a consistently affecting strength of character to the irreparably damaged parts she portrays.
Successfully taking a work which many might have thought impossible to adapt, Crime & Punishment extracts the moral core of the original and thrusts it onstage in a powerful production which shows the timeless relevance of its central conflict.
Crime & Punishment runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre until 9 November. Tickets and further information are available on the Lyceum website.