Theatre: An excellent criminal record

On the Fringe

IT'S EASY to mock the hubris of fringe theatre companies, to knock the spirit of vaulting ambition that often sends our least experienced actors off to tackle the hardest works the canon can hurl at them.

The National Theatre of Brent has become a comic institution by repeatedly pillorying thespian delusions of grandeur with its shoestring epics. A production of Crime and Punishment by 16 actors at the tiny Finborough in west London sounds like another example of a company with ideas above its venue. But the members of Steam Industry have come up trumps.

The main reason for this, oddly enough, is that they don't overreach themselves. The chosen text is the one Rodney Ackland devised in 1946 - little heard of after its initial run with John Gielgud and Edith Evans. The playwright remorselessly shredded those pages of gibbering monologues and fevered descriptions of St Petersburg low-life and delivered the bare bones of the story, confining the action to the house of Amalia Ludwigovna - the landlady of the wretched student Raskolnikoff. The result is brief (one and three quarter hours) and to the point.

The Finborough's chicken coop space has been exploited by designers Tamasin Rhymes and Rupert Tebb, who range us along three sides of the acting area in railed wooden stands, like nosey neighbours in a crowded tenement or jurors at a makeshift court. Stygian lighting reinforces a sense of the moral murk in which Raskolnikoff can hatch his murder-friendly theory of a world divided between lice and men.

The biggest edit is that we aren't shown the old pawnbroker being bludgeoned to death, which helps both to sidestep melodrama and register how impalpable the crime is to its perpetrator. Mark Collison strikes the perfect balance between loveable and contemptible rogue: as scrawny as an abandoned mut, this Raskolnikoff's skin is so thin, we can almost see him twisting inside as he is goaded by police inspector Porfiri, whom the director, Phil Willmott, plays with a smug detachment.

An adaptation could probably thrive solely on the basis of this double- act. Certainly, the other parts are two-dimensional by comparison; so much so that the brief, brawling crowd scenes have the feel of Fast Show sketches.

But the size of the cast isn't simply attention-seeking - by the time Raskolnikoff's helpmeet, the pure-at-heart prostitute, Sonia (Kirsty McFarland), has persuaded him to confess his guilt in the streets, we are in little doubt that the society before which he kneels is so spiritually destitute as to lend him a kind of innocence.

In Sophocles' Oedipus the King, vigorously attempted by the National Youth Theatre, there is a similar journey towards an admission of culpability that the protagonist holds off until the last minute.

The trick, again, is to keep startling the audience, as though the pieces of the jigsaw detailing a tragedy whose outline is already familiar, were being put together for the first time. William Kerley, the director, achieves this through the positioning of a massive 33-strong Theban chorus, who sniffle, hiss, sing, chant and stomp their responses - punctuating a tribal steel drum beat with the insistent clatter of pots and pans.

Just shepherding them into position would have been worth an award, but there are some stunning tableaux, most ominously, during Jocasta's revelations, their silhouettes rise up against the glowing cyclorama of Lotte Collett's parched landscape like gathering vultures. The ensemble posturings are more striking than the individual performances: Tom Padden's Oedipus has a delivery of Blair-like sanctimoniousness, which explains why the gods have got it in for him; initially impressive, the rapturous tone doesn't sit so well with defeat.

Neil Simon's 1985 gender rewrite of his 1965 flatmate-from-hell hit The Odd Couple lacks the freshness of the original - even supposing one could block out the memory of Walter Matthau's hangdog performance as Oscar, the man who takes in his anally retentive, suicidal chum and lives to regret it.

Still, Pinnacle Productions (a company set up for actors with day jobs) have a good stab, with Alexis Nishihata and Anita Booth providing the laconic versus drippy opposition needed to fire Simon's gags. So what if the apartment looks irredeemably Battersea? You gotta try.

`Crime and Punishment', Finborough Theatre, SW10, (0171-373 3842) to 19 Sept; `Oedipus the King', Bloomsbury Theatre, WC1, (0171-388 8822) to 19 Sept; `The Odd Couple', Grace Theatre, SW11, (0171-223 3549) to 26 Sept

Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices