Thursday, 26 October 2017

Review Demons

From The Book By Fyodor Dostoevsky
Dramatised by Peter Stürm

The Revolution Will Be Dramatised
Tackling Fyodor Dostoevsky's Demons for a stage production is always going to be a mighty task. Inspired by an 1860s' real-life murder case of student murdered by his fellow nihilist revolutionaries, the novel prophetically warns of the dangers of fanatical ideologies.

Peter Stürm, artistic director of  SplitMoon theatre company, is the latest artiste to grapple with this sprawling satiric work in a patchy production at St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch, London.

On the plus side, there's no lack of ambition in this modern dress production with its parade of carnivalesque grotesques.  There are strong actors in the cast, Jeffrey Kissoon, Samuel Collings, Timothy Allsopp and Valerie Grogan, and some beautiful work on lighting, although the lighting designer is unnamed in the programme

St Leonard's Church is magnificent, a venue fittingly reflecting Doestoevsky's religious preoccupations. It could have been a glorious setting and audience experience for a carefully thought-out production.

Unfortunately, the pluses are outweighed by the minuses in what turns out  to be a gruelling and jumbled three hours for the audience, shepherded from nave of the church to various other rooms, up and down staircases.

The problems start with the church's acoustics - audibility is a major issue, even sitting up close. The sound is better when the action moves to the smaller rooms.

The play's framework, as far as TLT could grasp,  is that of a court case, the story of a botched uprising then told in flashback. What happens between the beginning and the end? It was often hard to grasp and there's something amiss when one needs to consult the programme's description of characters in order to try and work out what is going on.

There is a possiblity of some spectacular staging - the image of a duel on one balcony watched by the audience on the opposite balcony sticks in the mind. However it was impossible to follow a narrative line.

Collings as the manipulative, amoral Stavrogin is undoubtedly charismatic and Kissoon makes an impact as both a bishop and also Stravrogin's intellectual mentor. However, this feels like a tangled production, with only occasional moments of clarity where basic technical problems could have been solved beforehand,

While Dostoevsky is famously wordy, the script could do with some filleting to allow more of both the subtlety and the bold satiric humour to emerge.  This seems like a script  shoehorned into the space rather than tailor-made.

It made TLT wonder whether in another space, more convenient for the audience and actors, this particular production would have worked better. However, as it is, this is a frustrating experience for the audience, sealing a red light. 

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