The second show in The Scoop‘s open air theatre double bill (incidentally put on by the same company, Gods & Monsters Theatre) is a stage adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment like no other. This one is a rock musical, soundtracked by Toyah Willcox!
The story is set in St Petersburg during the 1800s and centres on Raskolnikov, a student on the brink of giving up his studies due to his family’s poverty, and his unease over his sister (Dunya) marrying a rich man to bankroll him through his education. He convinces himself that murdering an old money lender is the only way to solve his & the community’s problems – and that, as he is a great man, allowances should be made for him to do so. When it comes to it, he ends up having to kill the money lender’s sister as well, to keep his identity a secret. Raskolnikov’s feeling of heroism is soon outweighed by guilt, as he grows closer to Sonya following a chance first encounter with her & her father. Soon he has to decide whether or not to confess to his crime…
Crime and Punishment: A Rock Musical is a semi-jukebox musical, in that Willcox’s back catalogue is raided for some of the numbers, and some brand new songs have been provided specifically for the show. Somehow it all works surprisingly well! The jukebox musical approach can sometimes make a show feel forced, as songs are shoe-horned into a storyline, but everything (bar an inadvertently funny It’s A Mystery) gels really well together. It may help if you are unfamiliar with Willcox’s work, as I am, however the themes in the chosen songs fit the feeling of the scenes in which they are included. Given Raskolnikov’s frustration & revolutionary fervour, rock music is definitely the best way to express these feelings. It’s also impressive that quite a sizeable novel can be condensed into a 100-minute show, that still has a tangible storyline running through it.
As with The Wawel Dragon, there is a 19th century steampunk theme to the design, which also marries well with the 80s pop-punk music. The set is reminiscent of St Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow) with its coloured domes, despite the story being set in St Petersburg – though with the approach of darkness, as well as all the action taking place onstage, it isn’t noticeable much of the time. The lighting design (Phil Supple) is occasionally a bit frenzied, with spotlights racing each other across the performance area. It feels like it’s trying to add to the rock music theme, which isn’t actually necessary – being able to see the actors singing, however, is.
Alec Porter’s central performance as Raskolnikov is gripping from the very beginning. He shows the student’s utter belief in himself as a great man to such an extent that it leaves the audience in shock when he commits his crime – but as we follow his story further, Porter’s portrayal of his mental & emotional fragility also creates sympathy for him. To top this off, he has an incredibly powerful voice that’s seemingly made for belting out rock tunes.
My verdict? A good crash course in an epic of Russian literature – but behind the toe-tapping tunes lies a dark story that’s vividly brought to life.
Crime and Punishment: A Rock Musical runs at the Scoop (London Bridge City) until 25 September 2016. Entry is free – donations can be made & programmes bought on the day.