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A CurtainUp London Review
. . .some trace of her
Moreover, not content with simply pioneering an innovative, ambitious media, the source novel which forms the basis of this play is a far from wieldy text. Dostoyevsky's The Idiot is essentially a morality tale about a "positively good man" who tries to help the corrupt society surrounding him but is ultimately destroyed by it.
On a single panoramic screen above the stage, a monochrome film is projected continuously, composed of shots taken live by cameras onstage. Superimposing shots, one character is often played by multiple actors, so one may be the face, another may provide sound effects or pose as the characters' hand and another may read an interior monologue. In this way, a coherent film is created from overlaid, discrete sequences, while on the stage beneath, the artifice is blatant; for example, a vase spins on a table top as if plummeting to the ground or shadows move as if days are passing. Again, a character on film may gaze out of a rain-streaked window, while onstage, an undisguised man powers a water spray. This duality plays with the audience's awareness of the artistic fiction and represents a metatheatrical breakdown of the barriers governing theatrical illusion.
This is an enthralling experience to watch, simply as a sheer feat of technical, intricate brilliance, all created live. Extraordinarily taxing for the cast, they have every nuance of facial expression projected in close-up and must then race to prepare the next camera shot seamlessly. Outstanding within an accomplished cast are Ben Whishaw as the eponymous hero, Prince Myshkin, played with meekness and a fragile, brooding altruism, and Hattie Morahan as the beautiful, tragically unhappy Nastasya Filippovna. However, the exact meaning of the dual representation is debatable and some may argue that it is simply for the sake of its own cleverness. It could possibly be a reflection of the conscious mind (as displayed by the film's lucidity) versus the ferociously energetic activity of the subconscious (the messy mechanism on stage). As an idea, this is especially interesting when Myshkin's sanity starts to fragment. In fact, my main caveat is that this could have been emphasised and a stronger link between thematic meaning and method created. Also, The Idiot's wider moral implications are sacrificed, so that while Dostoyevsky's novel is an indictment of a degenerate society, . . .some trace of her is a personal tragedy only.
This is certainly not a straight novel to stage adaptation and the audience should probably be warned to go in armed with a basic understanding of the novel's plot. The duality of a perfect illusion simultaneously created on screen and deconstructed on stage is even more notable in that it does not become a purely intellectual experience. With the immersion into the characters' minds, . . . some trace of her still manages to be emotionally involving. As interesting for its methods as for its content, this style of impressionistic portrayal of emotional lives could probably even tackle a stage adaptation of Ulysses!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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