|"Ambitious adaptation of Dostoyevsky's Idiot"|
by Rebecca Paton for remotegoat on 18/06/11
Theatre Collection continue their ambitious first season with an original adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. Director and adaptor Victor Sobchak draws on the broad themes of love and morality in Dostoyevsky's work, and the conflict between the "truly good", Christ-like Prince Myshkin (Ajay Nayyar), and the lustful "devil" Rogozin (Shaban Arfi). Dostoyevsky's novel perplexes and divides critics and readers alike, and this adaptation is no different.
The play revolves around Prince Myshkin's return to tsarist St Petersburg after spending his formative years isolated at a Swiss clinic for treatment of his epilepsy. The Prince is thrown head-first into a society he has little experience, or understanding of. Visiting his only relatives in the hope of finding work, he inadvertently becomes the object of the affections of the beautiful, fallen woman, Natasya Filipovna (Anna Kuznecova) and the almost as beautiful but chaste Aglaya (Christian Grant). But there are other suitors in the frame. The Prince's well intentioned but socially naive actions cause him to tread on the toes of Natasya and Aglaya's would-be suitor Ganya (Mark Friedmann), to push away Aglaya in turn, and to come into direct conflict with the increasingly irrational and dangerous Rogozin.
As an adaptation of a complex novel with a difficult narrative, the unfamiliar audience member could perhaps do with a bit more narration or possibly a synopsis in the programme. That said, the company do a fantastic job of lifting the characters off the page. Dostoyevsky once wrote that the concept of the idiot was "to depict a completely beautiful human being" and to explore how society would react to a truly Christ-like character in their midst. In this respect, Ajay Nayyar could not have been better cast - his pace and delivery were excellent and contrasted well with that of the ruffian Rogozin. Shaban Arfi similarly understood and depicted the depth of Rogozin's character.
The production was competent, although there is room for improvement here too: the company make do with few props and a minimalist stage, but the limited lighting failed to hit the mark, particularly when contrasting the lightness and dark in Rogozin and Myshkin's characters, and at times the blocking made scenes difficult to watch.
Some may say that the Theatre Collection has bitten off more than they can chew - but I applaud them for tackling the literary greats and the passion they bring to their productions at the Lord Stanley.
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