Dis­jointed homage to a cel­e­brated clas­sic

The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov Tron Theatre, Glas­gow Un­til Oc­to­ber 28

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - THEATRE REVIEW - Re­viewed by Mark Brown

IT isn’t dif­fi­cult to see why Glas­gow’s Tron Theatre chose to stage this re­vival of Richard Crane’s 1981 adap­ta­tion of Dos­toyevsky’s fa­mous novel The

Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov. The piece has an im­pres­sive her­itage. Orig­i­nally pre­sented, by the Brighton Theatre Com­pany, as part of the pres­ti­gious pro­gramme of the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val, its four-strong cast in­cluded the late, great Alan Rick­man and ex­cel­lent Scot­tish ac­tor Peter Kelly. Fay­nia Williams’s Fes­ti­val pro­duc­tion en­joyed crit­i­cal plau­dits. Re­view­ing for our daily sis­ter pa­per, then called The Glas­gow Herald, my col­league Mary Bren­nan praised “a lean force­ful play”, which was given “un­clut­tered, pacey di­rec­tion” by Williams.

This Tron re­vival is very much an homage to that cel­e­brated pro­duc­tion of 36 years ago. Not only is it work­ing with the same text, but it also boasts the orig­i­nal mu­sic by Stephen Boxer (who also acted in the 1981 show) and the ser­vices, as di­rec­tor, of Williams her­self.

If this new stag­ing of the Kara­ma­zovs ar­rived loaded with ex­pec­ta­tion, sad to say the pro­duc­tion dashes one’s ex­cite­ment quickly and em­phat­i­cally. Williams has cre­ated a pro­duc­tion which is so dry and lan­guid that it is dif­fi­cult to be­lieve she ac­tu­ally cre­ated the fondly re­mem­bered show of the early-1980s.

Dos­toyevsky’s novel places the bloody, in­ternecine cri­sis of the bour­geois Kara­ma­zov fam­ily within the wider con­text of a deca­dent Czarist Rus­sia. As in a Chekhov play, we sense that this is a so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious or­der that is on the brink of col­lapse. In­deed, both writ­ers, Dos­toyevsky and Chekhov, are so pen­e­trat­ing in their ob­ser­va­tions of the clash be­tween Czarism and Euro­pean En­light­en­ment thought that they seem al­most to prophecy the rise of Bol­she­vism and the rev­o­lu­tion of Oc­to­ber 1917.

Crane’s adap­ta­tion of the Kara­ma­zovs pares Dos­toyevsky’s novel down to the es­sen­tials of the broth­ers (in­clud­ing Smerdyakov, re­puted “bas­tard” son of the ran­cid and dis­rep­utable pa­ter­fa­mil­ias Fy­o­dor). Un­like the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion, how­ever, there is lit­tle in this re­vival of the sti­fling at­mos­phere of late-19th cen­tury Rus­sia.

Williams’s pro­duc­tion never achieves the promised, swift, sharply fo­cused evo­ca­tions of, for ex­am­ple, the dis­so­lute­ness of the way­ward Dmitry (Thierry Mabonga) or the piety of the youngest brother Alyosha (a novice in an Or­tho­dox monastery, played by Tom Eng­land). In­stead the piece feels hes­i­tant and dis­jointed, the act­ing per­for­mances strained and un­cer­tain.

Sean Big­ger­staff tries to lend some kind of moral weight to Ivan, the rest­less ni­hilist who, like a Lu­cifer of the En­light­en­ment, tests Alyosha’s faith. How­ever, his play­ing is heavy on exposition and emo­tional hyper­bole, and light on sub­tlety. Like­wise Mark Brails­ford’s Smerdyakov, who is a car­i­ca­ture of oily ser­vil­ity, rather than a com­plex schemer ca­pa­ble of vi­o­lent pat­ri­cide.

This pro­duc­tion isn’t even a de­cent ad­vert for Boxer’s mu­sic, which is char­ac­terised in this stag­ing by oc­ca­sional chimes and awk­ward singing by the cast. If Williams’s de­ci­sion to have her ac­tors sing, in pairs on ei­ther side of the au­di­to­rium, from be­hind the au­di­ence, is in­tended be emo­tion­ally evoca­tive, it fails dis­mally. One can only imag­ine the spir­i­tual polyphony that might have been achieved by her orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion, be­cause it is en­tirely ab­sent here.

The show’s set, de­signed by Carys Hobbs, cer­tainly con­trib­utes to the piece’s sense of dull in­flex­i­bil­ity. A hard, static arena, the ac­tors ei­ther clam­ber upon the steps on its walls or roll, bare­foot in the too-ob­vi­ously metaphor­i­cal mud. The re­sults are both the­atri­cally un­for­giv­ing and vis­i­bly uned­i­fy­ing.

It is only four years since di­rec­tor Do­minic Hill brought us a su­perb pro­duc­tion of an­other Dos­toyevsky novel (Crime And Pun­ish­ment, adapted bril­liantly by Chris Han­nan) at Glas­gow’s Cit­i­zens Theatre. The in­evitable com­par­i­son does this list­less Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov no favours at all.

Pho­to­graph: Jamie Simp­son

Tom Eng­land and Thierry Mabonga in Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov at the Tron Theatre

Ac­tor Sean Big­ger­staff, who plays Ivan in The Tron theatre’s pro­duc­tion of The Broth­ers Kara­ma­zov

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