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A CurtainUp London London Review

Did I kill the old hag? No, not the old hag - I killed myself.
---- Raskolnikov
Iain Pearson as Raskolnikov
(Photo: Pete Jones)

The vast, subterranean space of the Old Abattoir in Clerkenwell provides the perfect setting for Dreamthinkspeak's effortless theatrical originality. Descending beneath a busy road in central London, the audience are free to explore the labyrinthine chambers of this strange, cavernous space in the most successful promenade production I have ever seen. Those orientationally challenged need not fear, for if anyone does get lost somewhere in the basement or sub-basement, strategically placed ushers, identifiable only by a white armband, are on hand to lend guidance.

Underground is an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's eternally absorbing Crime and Punishment. Although the epic novel has been reduced to fit into eighty minutes, Underground is an impressionistic yet spot-on representation of the brooding, intricate narrative. The nether world of impoverished nineteenth-century St Petersburg is brilliantly recaptured in this shadowy, dank space. Scattered video images are projected throughout, effectively exploiting the abattoir's individuality. One shows a picture hurtling through an underground train tunnel, beneath which you can peer down a long, dark passageway which trails into the distance.

An anonymous chorus of corpse-pale Russians, with darkly-ringed eyes and wearing heavy black coats and hats, walk around with carefully-measured, deliberate movements. In a truly interactive production, audience members are offered shots of vodka in a run-down drinking den, have any jewellery inspected for potential pawning and drink red wine in a velvet-furnished bar.

Iain Pearson as the tormented hero is a revelation in guilt-wracked anguish. With his earnest Scottish accent and dark piercing eyes, his performance is compelling and exudes integrity. The psychological strain he suffers is palpably sensed from within his scruffy impoverished coat.

The chorus silently lead us to the pivotal murder scene, where Raskolnikov cowers outside the moneylender's room. From behind the shut door, we hear the crime played out, meticulously following Raskolnikov's frenzied rehearsals. Upon his escape, the gruesome scene is revealed. He later gives an academic speech which justifies murder under certain circumstances. However, his audience silently file out, and his own speech is played back in a whispering echo. As if tormented by his own arguments which fail to convince him, his lofty seeming challenge to society is exposed as simply another sordid, bloody and culpable murder. He then approaches a mirror, but his reflection is obscured by the image of the dead woman. Through his guilty sensibility, he has become the murdered. In many ways, the whole evening hinges upon this incredibly sympathetic performance.

Scarlett Perderau plays the spiritually pure Sonia forced into prostitution because of her vodka addicted father (Johannes Flaschberger). Her religious faith and power of healing show Raskolnikov some hope of salvation. Miltos Yerolemou exactly captures the detective Porfiry who is menacingly acute beneath a genial and chatty manner.

Tristan Sharps' skilful direction combines fine nuances needed for close-up scrutiny with stage skills such as voice-projection. The masterminding of the separate, simultaneous yet interweaving scenes is a dramatic coup. The production follows an eighty-minute loop, so Raskolnikov is chillingly condemned to repeat his crime but the audience have the opportunity to revisit any scenes they might have missed.

The atmospheric, fragmentary narrative seems to plunge you straight into Raskolnikov's tortured consciousness. Performed in various languages, this visceral theatrical experience is intensely powerful, encompassing social wretchedness, psychological disease, a demonic ambience and ultimately human salvation. Not bad for an hour and a half's wandering around.

adaptation by Dreamthinkspeak of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment
Directed by Tristan Sharps

Starring: Iain Pearson; with Scarlett Perdereau, George Danka, Johannes Flaschberger, Julia Munrow, You-ri Yamanaka, Miltos Yerolemou, Davinia Silver
Composer: Max Richter
Associate Designer: Vicki Cowan-Ostersen
Produced by dreamthinkspeak and ArtsAgenda.
Co-commissioned by Young Genius/BITE 05, Barbican in association with the Brighton Festival, Made in Brighton Ltd and South Hill Park Arts Centre
Running time: 80 minutes loop promenade but flexible
Box Office: 0845 120 7554
Booking to 29th October 2005
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 13th October 2005 performance at the Old Abattoir, 187-211 St John Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1 (Tube: Farringdon)
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©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer.
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