Harvest Rain has presented an intriguing version of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, in the form of an adaptation by Greg McLarnon that pares the richness of the original work down to a cast of four characters and a focus on their inter-relationships. And both Harvest Rain and McLarnon are to be commended for reminding us of a novel that is part of a by-now largely ignored body of classical literature.
How well a budget version of Dostoevsky’s book works as contemporary theatre is a more complex question. For me, there were too many ghosts from the original rattling their chains around the large and somewhat spartan stage, but that said it did provide an interesting if not always successful mix of contemporary issues, timeless moral dilemmas, and the outmoded social constrictions, constructions and values of a bygone era.
The structure of the novel has also been modified, with the modern version using a form of flashback that anticipates the events to come. Under the directorship of Nerida Jaaniste, these are competently played out by the appealing cast, through a series of set pieces that move inexorably to the dramatic conclusion.
The stronger performances come from Ray Tiernan, who captures the aesthetic appearance and manner of the recovering epileptic and gentle man, Prince Muishkin, and from Emma Skelton as the spirited and assertive Aglaya Epanchine. Joachim Seilo is more erratic as the Prince’s sometime friend and jealous rival Parfen Rogojin. This may be because of the character that he is playing, of an outgoing but aggressive and jumpy personality, but he is also somewhat perfunctory in some of his more emotional scenes. And Caroline Frewin is not always convincing as the tormented and tragic Nastasia Barashkovna.
As a theatrical experience, this production has a superficiality that gives soapy overtones to the Russian darkness, and at times appears to be played (and responded to by the audience) as comedy rather than drama. A few of the most dramatic moments, moreover, miss their mark to the point where on the night I saw it there were titters from some parts of the audience.
This is, nonetheless, a show that meets Harvest Rain’s aspirations to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, and is likely to encourage more than one of its audience (myself included) to go back not only to the original novel, but also some of Dostoevsky’s other powerful works.