Mar. 3rd, 2006

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Review of Crime & Punishment from Bromley Times

LAST week's production at the Bromley Little Theatre provided audiences with a rare opportunity to see Rodney Ackland's impressive stage adaptation of Dostoevsky's powerful and complex novel Crime and Punishment, writes Roy Atterbury.

The play was written during the so called Nihilist period in Russia and for the writer's anti-hero, a student called Raskolnikov, this meant that the majority of human beings had virtually no use other than to procreate and, on rare occasions, produce supreme beings who were totally above the law and social conventions.

As a result, he casually murders two female pawnbrokers - considering them to be no more than social parasites. The aftermath, however, plays havoc with his state of mind and his story becomes a psychological drama that plumbs the depths of mental anguish.

The play has 22 different characters and the action is set in a dingy lodging house somewhere in St Petersburg, Russia, during the late 19th century.

With so many actors appearing in some scenes, the two directors (Viv Noot and Peter March) choreographed the settings with real skill while Noot's set design was exceptional as were the costumes from Andrea Gambell and Christine Wilson. There was a powerful Russian atmosphere throughout.

Much of the play mirrors Dostoevsky's own unhappy life and the concept of mixing the former rich with the constantly poor people living in the lodging house highlighted the fact that poverty can be an ephemeral phenomenon that makes a mockery of class divides.

Justin Pledger was magnetic in the role of the young student who found he had no means of coping with the Hell that was of his own making.

His one saviour was the unlikely love of a young woman (Ariana Barnes) who had been forced into prostitution in order to pay for the food and lodging that kept her dying step-mother (Abi Topley) and young step-sister (Lillian Le Sage) alive. The part was acted with remarkable skill and compassion, which fully complemented the undoubted talents of Justin Pledger.

However, always threatening to dominate the action, Howard Wilson gave two magnificent performances, firstly as a permanently drunk former civil servant and secondly as the chief of police. Very different roles but superb acting in both. Dominic Howell and Row Mafham also added to the many talents on view.

Abi Topley was also outstanding in the role of a woman who could not forget her pampered past while Sue Parker-Nutley created a real dragon of a woman in her role as the German owner of the lodging house.

A disturbing play with few ineffectual moments, a strong portrait of life in Tsarist Russia, and a compelling view of misconceived political and social dogma and the horror of thwarted passions.


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