Reviewed by Hamish Stewart
Tron Theatre, 13/10/17
Religion and power, amoralism and sex, scandal and murder- all awash at Richard Crane and Faynia Williams’s ‘The Brother’s Karamazov’ reboot at the Tron Theatre this Autumn. And what else could be playing with that thematic lineup? This impressive feat of distillation, where the essence of Dostoevsky’s tone remains perfectly intact in the two-hour show, leaves the audience wondering what exactly the world’s been doing for the last 150 years, given the narrative could have been written yesterday.
The first act of the play covers the dispute between father and son over their inheritance and who gets the girl, and whilst the brother’s disparage each other’s philosophies tirelessly. The act closes on the eve of their father’s murder, following the brothers as they each chase their own dreams, angels, and demons. The second act opens on the aftermath of the murder where a formal interrogation and a trial ensues. Alongside this, the four brothers gradually begin to note their own complicity and each begins to endure a personal crisis, from which only some survive. As the plot and name might suggest, the brother’s roles are crucial to the success of the message. Fortunately, the acting is excellent.
The five-strong Karamazov family, consisting of four brothers, and the brother’s father, Fyodor, played by all four actors interchangeably, are cast astutely as the performances they bring to their roles fit harmoniously with their characters’ personalities. Thierry Mabonga (Dmitry) is intemperate and passionate, Sean Biggerstaff (Ivan) is coldly blunt and rational and Tom England (Alyosha) faithful and youthful. That said, the actors also rightly capture the nuance and double-nature of their characters, allowing the audience to feel their visceral emotions with them. Each actor performs with their whole body and countenance; at one point when Biggerstaff is amongst the audience, his knuckles and eyes brim with energy. The staging and expressive movement of the actors also works beautifully alongside the dialogue to bleed the source material for all it’s worth.
Crane and William’s play continues to have powerful resonance 35 years after its debut because we still have no answers to the questions it asks. Its message – that humanity’s embrace of materialism (our insufficient replacement for God and reason) has left us with greater uncertainty, anxiety, and doubt than we started with – is a as timely as it was in 1880. When this play goes out of circulation therefore, there will be reason for joy and sorrow.