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Crime and Punishment

Sunday Telegraph 11th September 1983, Francis King

At the close of Yuri Lyubimov’s production of Crime and Punishment (Lyric, Hammersmith) Michael Pennington steps out of his role of the murderer to read from an essay by a Soviet schoolboy: “Raskolnikov was right to kill the old woman. Too bad he got caught.”

Dostoevsky would have been horrified by such a misapprehension; and clearly Mr Lyubimov and his collaborator in making this adaptation, Yuri Kariakin, share that horror. Moral justification may be found for the assassination of a tyrant, but not for the axeing of two humble women, one of them pregnant.

This Raskolnikov is a previously ineffectual creature driven out of his wits by his imaginings of himself as a Nietzschean superman. There is no tenderness in his relationship with Sonia, only that false sense of kinship that makes him tell her that she, no less that himself, is a murderer, since, she has, in effect taken her own life by becoming a prostitute in order to support her family.

The scene in which he kneels and kisses her feet, acknowledging in her all erring, suffering humanity, is here played so harshly that he might be Hamlet putting his head in Ophelia’s lap.

Unlike Rodney Ackland’s version in which John Gielgud, Edith Evans and Peter Ustinov appeared so memorably, this one, first devised for the controversial Moscow Taganka theatre, provides no clear account of the narrative for those unfamiliar with the novel.

Clearly Mr Lyubimov has been influenced by modern filmmaking, with abrupt cuts between past and present and constant use of spotlights, often wielded by characters on the stage, to create an illusion of close-ups. This chiaroscuro fits a production in which tumultuous emotions tend to be delineated in stark contrasts of black and white.

Mr Pennington, looking as if he had starved for the role, presents a grimacing, glittering-eyed Raskolnikov, whose feverish view of himself as a superman, beyond good and evil, seems to be a symptom of physical as well as of spiritual hunger. As Porfiry, the detective, Bill Paterson is immensely skilful in suggesting the dreadful clownishness of the kind of executioner who first uses the noose as a skipping-rope before putting it around his victim’s neck.

There are hardly less memorable performances from Paola Dionisotti as the consumptive and eventually crazed Katerina Inanovna, Christopher Guinee as the drunken Marmeladov and Gary Waldhorn as the enigmatic Svidreigailov.

It is an indication of Mr Lyubimov’s towering authority as a director that he has not merely extracted such performances but that, with a minimum of scenery, he manages to convey now all the claustrophobia of seething tenements and now all the desolation of empty rain-swept streets. A remarkable evening.

The Times, 8th September 1983, Irving Wardle

Yuri Lyubimov’s production opens with the sight of Raskolnikov derisively flashing a hand-held lamp into our eyes and declaring that “a true Napoleon is permitted anything”. It ends with with a quotation from a schoolboy’s essay: “Raskolnikov was tight to kill the old woman: too bad he got caught.”

This, in short is not the kind of self-enclosed event that normally occupies the Western classical stage. It is an urgent re-examination of the arguments and passions that fire Dostoevsky’s characters, drawing its form and energy from the traditional Russian conviction that Art is important as a direct influence on human actions.

However, Lyubimov and Yuri Kariakin’s version is totally unlike previous Russian novel adaptations that have played over here. Instead of chronological narrative, the action is split up and reordered in a fluent succession of episodic flashes, each one going straight to the central issue without any expository build-up.

Knowledge of the book is taken for granted. If supporting detail is needs it happens simultaneously, with the sight of Luzhin (Bill Stewart) guiding a prostitute to her room like a farm animal, or Katerina Ivanovna (Paola Dionisotti) leading her starving brood up from a forestage pit and across the stage in the midst of a related scene.

All the lighting is directional. Most of it concentrated towards the front of the stage against a background to blackness that occasionally opens up for full-scale nightmare.

If this is beginning to sound like a director’s production, I must emphasize that it is most overwhelming for the quality of the acting. Lyubimov has succeeded in impelling a British company into taking off vertically into high passions, with not a false note throughout the evening,

At the first sight of Christopher Guinee’s Marmeladov, he introduces himself as an impoverished government clerk and within seconds he is on his knees facing the gates of paradise and striking to your tear ducts. Likewise Veronica Robert’s Sonia, when Raskolnikov challenges her belief in God. As a non-believer, I can only record these as two heart-stopping moment, reflecting Lyubimov’s Christian reading of the work and his full projection of Dostoevsky’s call for compassion before justice.

As in all versions, the central thread is the hunter-hunted scenes between Raskolnikov and Porfiry, as played by Michael Pennington and Bill Paterson this is no Cat and Mouse theme, but rather the pursuit of a lost soul: as Pennington, eyes glittering and face reduced to a razor-like jaw line, writhes in the inner conflict between guilt and Faustian arrogance, and Paterson closes in with ambiguous friendliness that invites every form of confession, a great event.

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