Written by Fyodor Dostoyesky
Presented by Burjesta Theatre
Directed by Julian Bond
The Casa, Liverpool
12th, 14th, 16th, 18th November 2016
Reviewed by Ashley McGovern
Burjesta Theatre’s latest production is a dark, raging adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic nineteenth-century novel, Crime and Punishment. Trimming down 600 sprawling pages of guilt-ridden prose is no easy task, yet director Julian Bond has managed to create a highly enjoyable two-hour morality tale.
The play begins in a raucous bar in Saint Petersburg where the local drunk, Marmeladov, is ranting against injustice. At the same time, two pool players are complaining about a miserly local crone called Alyona Ivanova, a cruel moneylender who regularly cons her desperate clients.
Listening in to all this is the neurotic 23-year-old student called Raskalnikov. Desperate for money and a sense of moral victory, he decides to kill Ivanova with an axe and take back her horde of possessions. This drastic action begins Raskalnikov’s long journey into despair, and Nathan Benjamin truly excels playing this young neurotic who struggles to come to terms with the murder.
Permanently struck by fever and prone to hallucinating, people begin to suspect the shadier side of his character. Not least Inspector Porfiry Petrovitch, who seems to know Raskalnikov’s guilt all along and yet goads him into a confession with sly detective tricks.
The other person who plays on his conscience is Marmeladov’s destitute daughter, Sonya; she uses her strong faith in God to convince Raskalnikov (including a movingly distressed reading of the Lazarus tale by actress Laura Connolly) to rush into the streets and shout ‘I’m a murderer’.
The main strength of the production is the cast’s ability to convey friction and hysteria. Michael Cavanagh as the nosey Petrovitch often cackles at the thought of catching the killer in his web, and Helen Lanceley plays the part of Sonya’s mother, Katerina, with a sense of delusional pride in her distant aristocratic heritage.
The wider supporting cast also do a brilliant job of suggesting that Saint Petersburg is an unruly, mismanaged police state, a city where malice and murder are dangerously common.
Crime and Punishment is the harrowing start to Burjesta’s Russian season, which will continue throughout 2017 with the staging of a piece entitled ‘Revolution’ scheduled for next autumn.
On top of this production, they will be running numerous workshops centred around the work of revolutionary playwrights like Gorky and Brecht, and screening a series of classic films such as Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and Warren Beatty’s Reds.
Visit Burjesta’s website for more information about their past productions and weekly theatre workshops: www.burjesta-theatre.co.uk
This production will be staged again at The Casa on Monday, 14 November; Wednesday 16 November; and Friday 18 November.