“The art of investigation is…um…freeform”
God, Russia, booze, ghosts, vomit, legacies, tables, blood, metal, tears, redemption, hatred, cruelty, love, sex – the programme notes couldn’t capture Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment any more succinctly if it tried. So it is remarkable then, that in Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’s 90 minutes-straight through adaptation presented here by Arrows & Traps, there’s a second distillation of the Russian epic that similarly captures so much of what has made it an enduring literary classic.
This it does by fashioning something new, something theatrical, out of the narrative. You could while away the hours pointing out what has been ‘missed out’ from the book but at over 600 pages long, your bum will be thanking you for exactly that. For it speaks to what makes a good adaptation, a version that is canny enough not to attempt to slavishly recreate every detail of every page, but rather embody something that is undeniably of its spirit but takes a bold step or two of its own as well.
And Ross McGregor’s production certainly achieve that. This is unmistakably Dostoyevsky – Christopher Tester’s Raskolnikov, a law student drawn to commit murder, is present almost throughout and as he struggles to deal with his guilt, he is stalked by Stephen MacNeice’s inspector Porfiry and Christina Baston’s Sonia, the woman who would save him. And though the latter two cover several smaller roles within this portion of the larger story, that’s pretty much it.
For this adaptation plays out like a psychological thriller, intense interviews and moody conversations switching deftly into flashback sequences and internal monologues, huge questions about guilt and God are thrown up in the air and left, tantalisingly, hanging there right until the end. No easy answers here for there are no easy answers anywhere, just moral certainties, for those lucky enough to possess them, as shrewedly espoused by MacNeice’s insightful detective and Baston’s compelling and almost saint-like Sonia.
Together, they work to try and coax and cajole Tester’s haunted, complex anti-hero towards the possibility of redemption, but the darkness and danger that he reveals, in the mind of this criminal, is as delicious as it is desperate. McGregor’s assured touch at the tiller keeps a keen fluidity to the action with numerous lovely little touches (the uplight in the bowler hat) and if the contemporary soundscape jars just a little at times, it is still a neat nod to the Arrows & Traps aesthetic which fits in just perfectly to the Brockley Jack.