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A CurtainUp London London Review
. . .some trace of her

You know, I can't understand how one can pass by a tree and not be happy about the sight of it. Think how many beautiful things there are at every step, things even the most wretched man cannot but find beautiful. Look at a child, look at the grass, how it grows, look at the eyes that gaze at you and love you... — Prince Myshkin
...some trace of her
Hattie Morahan as Nastasya Filippovna
(Photo: Stephen Cummiskey)
Katie Mitchell’s engrained originality means that she does not just tackle interpretations of classic plays, but explores breathtakingly original means of expression on the stage too. As in The Waves, . . . some trace of her uses a hybrid of film and theatre to submerge the audience in the inner lives of the characters. However, film is not used as a prop or stylistic appendix, but is integral to the play's conception. Using live streaming from stage to film, the result is an exciting and incredibly clever kaleidoscopic portrayal allowing the audience to delve deeply into the characters' minds.

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!

. . . some trace of her
Inspired by The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Adapted by Katie Mitchell and the Company from the translation by David Magarshack
Directed by Katie Mitchell

With: Jamie Ballard, Pandora Colin, Sam Crane, Gawn Grainger, Helena Lymbery, Hattie Morahan, Bradley Taylor, Ben Whishaw
Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Director of Photography: Leo Warner
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Music: Paul Clark
Sound Designer: Gareth Fry
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 21st October 2008
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 2nd August 2008 performance at The Cottesloe, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX (Tube: Waterloo)
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