Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Crime and Punishment

Lyceum Theatre 29/10/13
Verdict: excellent – if you like that sort of thing!

I feel I may have had more time for this as a young man. Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky wrote Преступлéние и наказáние (originally published in 1866) in his mid forties when he was in the middle of a gambling addiction that left him penniless and hungry. What a dick. The book follows the exploits of law student, Raskolnikov, also penniless and hungry, who, instead of doing translations like his fellow student Razumikhin to raise money, drops out of his course, takes to his bed, eats only handouts from a friend and fixates on the murder of the (supposedly evil) pawnbroker he has hocked all his stuff to. What a dick.

He kills the pawnbroker (the Crime of the title) and another woman who turns up at the wrong moment to witness the crime, then spends the rest of the show justifying his actions, feeling guilty and is on the point of confessing more than once. He is interviewed by the police although another person confesses to the crime. While there is some banter about justifying a crime if everyone is better off afterwards, it all leads to the second part of the title with a confession followed by the Punishment.

Three hours heavy with a minimal stage, sounded awful and I was not looking forward to this much at all. However a £5 discounted ticket (thanks Mike) is a small price to pay. The trouble was I'd had an utterly fabulous afternoon in the Botanics taking photos of the dazzling autumn colours and some charming squirrels and all this gloom and doom seemed, well a bit dreary by comparison. And parts of it, towards the interval as my eyelids dropped, were. Another 5 minutes and I'd have been snoring. However the whole thing was done so superbly well that I take my hat off to all concerned and applaud their efforts. Won't be reading the book any time soon though.

woopsie - nodded off and dreamt of the botanics

The performance started (or was on-going) as we entered the auditorium with the lights up and the cast walking about on stage. Once we were seated the cast sang a hymn-like Russian flavoured number in minor harmonies before the main man, an excellent Adam Best stepped forward and the house lights dimmed to let us hear his thesis on murder. The show hangs entirely on his central performance and he carries it off with admirable commitment and ability. We totally believe the lightheaded delirium of hunger and angst, through Best's acting rather than his physical appearance. His breaking wavering voice defines the haunted struggle of the protagonist and discourages us from writing it off as just being beset by mental health issues, although frankly I think this is the central concern underlying the plot. Dostoyevsky has been through many of the dire circumstances he writes about and the issues are dealt with from within, rather than objectively, which perhaps lends an authority to the piece, making it more compelling. Myself, I prefer squirrels and orange backlit trees. (The main character pretty much admits enjoying the 1,500 mile trek to Siberia (as part of the Punishment,) suggesting a lot of what he needed was just to get out more.)

And the book has 720 pages. People would probably complain if the stage version hacked that down to 40 minutes though I think if the best 40 minutes of tonight's show was stood on its own it would be very splendid. There was much that was terrific. The staging was casual minimal. Not a blank canvas but a fairly uncluttered stage with draped curtain behind, and just a row of musical instruments (piano, harpsichord, double bass, balalaika, bowed cymbal, drum etc) and furniture along the back – couches and chairs for the cast (dressed in a strangely credible mix of 1866~contemporary) who would be disappeared by the lighting or remain half lit as grumbling or sarcastic audience to Raskolnikov's soliloquies, (particularly responsive when R would compare himself egotistically to Napoleon or a “great man”.) And suddenly rise en masse, perfectly on cue, to accentuate a point or express shock. Or play the musical instruments.

The murder scene was brilliantly conveyed. It is important to the gravitas of the play that the central Crime is handled well. Raskolnikov's weapon of choice is an axe. (His mother later states that as a child he had a terrible temper and she would attend to this by giving him an axe to chop wood! - there are several good jokes along the way.) So how do you do a double axe murder every night and twice on Wednesdays without it looking stagy while avoiding actual bloodshed? Here they succeed superbly with a slash of dark red gore oozing down heavy polythene slats that is worth the admission price alone. The prostitutes' scene with descending red lamps and enough dry ice to have the stalls in coughing fits is similarly striking. (The cast, submerged, never so much as cleared their throats.) Less impressive but still intriguing was the on-stage cast, vocalising others' strained breathing (and off stage voices) into visible mics. And the use of mobile doors on casters to enter and leave scenes was simple, effective, very smoothly handled and completely convincing.

I found the casts' ability to accompany the show musically really impressive. (This was NOT a musical however and in no way was attempting a Les Mis type adaptation. There were no breaking into song moments (I stole a loaf of bread) and no showstopping sing-along shite.) They would pick up instruments as the thing progressed and knock out a ticking ambient passage on percussion and piano (with the piano opened and plucked like a harp) that perfectly underscored the chilling or painful speeches of the central players. (And would start and stop with impeccable timing.) I have no idea if the cast faced musical auditions “now what musical instrument can you bring to this performance” but several of them were outstanding. (Razumikhin on clarinet and voice.) In fact George Costigan was so adept plucking out jazzy riffs on the double bass I first thought he was miming to an audio track but as things progressed his performance seemed to be for real. (Though some piano melodies appeared without anyone seeming to play them.) And he, George, played a mandolin at another point. And this from a man I first encountered in Rita Sue and Bob Too.

In C&P he played 3 characters, for no other reason than he appeared able to, and was available. Potentially confusing as Raskolnikov admits to Costigan's police interrogator that he just left the death scene of Costigan's superbly drunken Marmeladov. However they just about get away with it. At other times the cast break into a frugally accompanied chorus, walking a nice line between Russian folk melodies, while avoiding descent into Volga Boatmen territory. While there are Russian nuances throughout the play, the whole (like the costumes) is not strictly tethered to time or place, leaving room for references to current issues, be it self-interested corrupt bankers or the politics of power.

The final minutes are a beautiful hypnotic mix of exhaustion and struggle and dreamscape with a snow shower and a spare haunting melody that perfectly rounds off the show, compressing the last chapters of the book into a whispered narrative that is more than a little spellbinding.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Mr. & Mrs.

A busy weekend and more invitations than we could possibly attend. (Apologies Ben and Bob for missing birthday celebrations.) Phil had planned furthest ahead and so his wedding sports day near Broughton was the main event on Saturday. He was doing the ceremony on Friday with Saturday being set aside for entertainments and activities for his and Katie's lycra clad hill running and biking pals. It sounded a huge improvement on the usual wedding celebrations where one puts on formal clothing and stands around shooting the breeze and eating small pastries with folk wearing ties.

I did feel a bit guilty about not cross-country-relaying, especially when we met Stavert in Tescos on Friday evening. The relays can mean a long stand in a cold field while first the women run, then all the men, one at a time and you wait in the cold and damp for your turn. Then about 20 minutes of very harsh running, then afterwards scraping the mud off, and an age of travelling home. Maybe I was feeling guilty because I was glad to be elsewhere.

They're doing WHAT with eggs?

The weather was not the best. Which was a damn shame as Katie and Phil had gone to great lengths to put on a lot of fun things for us. And the surrounding countryside was looking spectacular in Autumn shades. Or would have been if only the sun had come out. However spirits were high and shortly after arriving we were lined up to race up the hill across the way. The children were not let off lightly and had to run half way up said hill, being given a 2 minute head start. Since a good number of them were the offspring of some of Britain's finest hill runners they didn't hang about.

Katie and Phil (showing off recent jewelry.) Congratulations to them.

The elite race

The also rans (British champion Morgan D bottom left.)

Andrew, Phil's brother

First time I've been overtaken in a hill race by someone wearing an animal print onesie.
Also Scoffer went past (while I was struggling with the balloon) wearing wellies, no mean feat. Although he may have pocketed his balloon figuring he'd blow it up later.

Phil had set off early and was stationed about 2/3rds of the way up the hill. He handicapped the leading runners by giving them balloons to blow up, tie and carry. No easy task when wearing gloves and carrying a camera already. I was breathing so heavily by this point that just one exhalation filled my balloon, although I had to take my gloves off to tie it. Which is why there are a limited amount of photos from that bit.

At the summit we were met by Nic, Phil's sister, and Jon who insisted we climb into fancy dress apparel. I got lucky with only a pair of cycling shorts & bib (generously leaving the jimmy wig and hat for someone else) although it was a nightmare trying to get the stretchy item over studded hill shoes while keeping a hold of one's balloon which the wind was keen to take into the next county.

Asked why he wasn't wearing fancy dress, this one said he had given the traditional hand signal indicating it would not be required.

Phil's other brother Jim is a hillrunner with flare. He thought these fashionable slacks, forced upon him atop the hill, would be good for running, but they had him tripped and back on the ground in seconds.

Bobbing for apples. 
Gary won the balance-an-apple-on-the-rim-while-swimming-upside-down game. I am told the water was very refreshing.

Mary (having followed Rob off the hill the wrong way despite excellent markings) finally arrives at the finish.

Throwing the welly at the dude in the orange onesie beside our car.

tug of war

Egg throwing: stand in pairs a few feet apart and throw an egg (not boiled) back and forth. Increase gap until eggs are no longer throwable.

The beer tent. There were a couple of hundred of Broughton Brewery's finest here - I can't believe I forgot to drink any.

As the rain settled in we snuck off. Mary does not enjoy driving in the dark and rain so we headed back making the return journey in daylight but missing the food and drink which I wasn't so pleased about.

Selfies in public toilets by request. (Stephen Ralph)
(you can hold the door open at Gullane with a foot for addtional light but with greater risk of being caught in the act.)

Sunday, and both M and I were suffering from the doms in the quads. The sort of tight aches we used to get years ago after Carnethy and the like but haven't had for a few years. (Mary's dom-horn™ peeped every time we crested a dune and began a descent.) I reckoned we had both run a little too fast downhill - it was an excellent descent and you could really hammer it. However it may have been we have been spending too many weekend runs down the coast in place of our previously traditional Pentland weekenders. Speaking of which...

We parked up at Gullane. The forecast had suggested we get out early. What with the extra hour etc we arrived plenty early although some grey clouds loomed over in the West. Bruce beat us, being up for a glorious dawn - see his photos here. After a quick selfie in the toilets we headed down the JMW beside the golf course where the deer often hang around in this field although one of them looks a bit like a donkey. I must get that long lens I've been swithering about. (Only a newer, lighter and fancier one has become available, just when I had decided THAT was the one.)

Lower geese, more detail.

redder berries!

windy sand

Heinz beans bushes (Sea Buckthorn) in full berry mode.

Message in a bottle. If the message is half a pint of salty water. Or a just-missed focal distance.

My third favourite tree at Archerfields, and the grass was really that green (after all the rain.)

I hoped there was an owl or something fun in here. But just slime!
related poetry - skip down to Poem ("In the stump of the Old Tree")

And that's about it. Except to say I was disappointed it didn't rain furiously for the rest of the day since I'd got up esp early and was feeling superior on account of it. It was some consolation it did seem like terrible conditions at the Run of the Mill hill race, and I was heartily glad I hadn't opted for that this year, lovely as it is. Next weekend is a long run up a muddy trail so maybe I should be toughening-the-flip-up, but I think this, this lazy feeling and general slackening, is tapering. Preparation. That'll be it.