THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
TRON THEATRE, GLASGOW
Reviewed by Mark Brown
In 1981 the Brighton Theatre was the first company to be taken from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and placed on the prestigious programme of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF). The show it presented was Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
The great tale, in which we witness the violent implosion of the bourgeois Karamazov family, was adapted by Richard Crane and directed by Faynia Williams. It was performed by a four-strong cast that included Alan Rickman.
According to Crane (writing in 2011), EIF director John Drummond was “looking for rough brilliance.” This revival of Crane’s adaptation by Glasgow’s Tron Theatre Company, with Williams back at the directorial helm, is certainly rough, but it has precious little brilliance.
The four cast members (each of whom plays a Karamazov brother, including Smerdyakov, rumoured “illegitimate” child of the degenerate and neglectful patriarch Fyodor) appear like proverbial fish out of water. Uncomfortable with Crane’s cut-and-paste approach to the text (which necessitates regular and sudden shifts between dialogue, exposition and narration) they anticipate their lines visibly, like greyhounds ready to be released from the traps.
Dostoyevsky’s novel concerns itself with the immense religious, philosophical and cultural anxieties that wracked the soul of Czarist Russia. As such it demands a style and gravitas that is entirely absent from Williams’s production.
The conflicting world views of Ivan (the nihilistic “sensualist”, played by Sean Biggerstaff) and Alyosha (an earnest novice monk, performed by Tom England) are delivered either as dry diatribes or histrionic outbursts. The attempted humour of the piece is frivolous and inconsequential, not least in Mark Brailsford’s characterisation of the servile and slippery Smerdyakov, which is excruciatingly overacted.
Even continuity is a problem. When Thierry Mabonga’s Dmitry removes his blood-soaked shirt, the vest underneath is a miraculously pristine white.
The production boasts Stephen Boxer’s music from the original 1981 production. However, it is delivered here, not with the enigmatic soulfulness of eastern polyphonic song, but with a variably competent lack of vocal conviction.
Carys Hobbs’s set offers no respite from the general dreadfulness of the show. A rigid crucible of wood and soil, it is (that contradiction in terms) a literal metaphor, representing, among other places, a monk’s cell and a courtroom. Ugly and intrusive, its only defence might be that it is no worse than any other element of this crushingly disappointing production.
At Tron Theatre, Glasgow until October 28: tron.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on October 14, 2017
© Mark Brown