THEATRE / The profits of crime: Robert Hanks reviews The Truman Capote Talk Show and Red Shift's Crime and Punishment

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The Independent Culture
It isn't hard to make a connection between Red Shift's Crime and Punishment and Bob Kingdom's The Truman Capote Talk Show: on the one hand, we have the most celebrated fictional account of a murder and its aftermath; on the other, the author of the most celebrated account of a real-life murder, In Cold Blood. Aside from that coincidence of theme, though, you'd be hard put to find two shows more different in style.

The Truman Capote Talk Show is a low-key affair: the set consists of a black leather chair, in which Bob Kingdom - a stunningly faithful simulacrum of Capote - lounges awkwardly, or sits up with his legs dangling a few inches above the floor. Limp-wristed, languid, tongue lolling disdainfully or flicking out at his pouty lower lip, Capote comes across as a benevolent reptile. It's a reptile that can spit venom, though, and the show is brimming with cruel one- liners, directed at the rich and famous (of Jack Kerouac: 'That's not writing, that's typing'), at anonymous members of the public ('Normally I don't like a mustache on a woman, but in your case I have to say it works') and, most of all, at himself.

You don't, by the end, feel you've been taken very deep into Capote's psyche, but neither do you feel that it much matters: looking at the bare outlines of his life, you get all the answers you need. His early childhood was spent roving southern hotels while his mother conducted a series of liaisons (which the young Truman was often forced to watch). After that, he was landed on a family of Alabama Baptists whose 'sole interest in life was to let it pass them by', before his mother remarried and took him to New York. He was a homosexual, an alcoholic, suffered chronic ill- health, was obsessed by his own ugliness - the photos suggest that as a young man, at least, he was being a little hard on himself, but others shared his opinion: when he joined the New Yorker as a copyboy, Harold Ross just pointed at the elfin, cloaked figure with the piping voice and asked, 'What is that?'

One thing the show isn't short of is material - to the extent that the second half seems to be cluttered up with big headlines - alcohol, Warhol, In Cold Blood, the 'party of the decade' - apparently chucked in randomly. The lack of structure makes it hard to maintain your interest in the latter stages. Kingdom / Capote quotes approvingly Graham Greene's rule that 'the writer's job is to betray', and you wish Kingdom hadn't shown such exemplary loyalty to his subject. He never steps out of character or lets that high-pitched Southern drawl waver, and while as a technical feat it's deeply impressive, the play would have benefited from a little more variation of tone and pace.

The emotional pitch of Jonathan Holloway's adaptation of Crime and Punishment - superfluously subtitled The Killer's Story, presumably to emphasise that Dostoyevsky's novel has been stripped of all its subplots - almost disappears off the other end of the scale. This is all energy - wheeling around the jigsaw pieces of David Roger's set, switching parts, shouting, gesturing, shouting some more. The problem is less understatement than incessant hyperbole.

Philip Brook's Raskolnikov is the main culprit, bawling, staggering, clutching his brow, flailing his arms, jack-knifing his body with despair and anger: Will he commit murder? Oh God, he already has. Is it wrong? Why is it? Should he confess? Can he stop himself? I was prepared to shop him a good half-hour before the end, just for some peace and quiet.

Jane Louise Arnfield is nearly as bad - as Sonya, the fallen woman who then falls for Raskolnikov, she shouts and twists her mouth up for the sad bits, and otherwise adopts a fixed, shining-eyed gaze that is supposed to express idealism but looks more like advanced psychosis. You wonder why the police didn't have her in the frame.

The flaws in Holloway's production are all incidental - there's nothing wrong with the basic concept, and some moments are really ingenious: the impression, in the dreamlike opening tableau, of a film running backwards, or the silhouetted Punch and Judy-style murder at the start of the second half. But when, towards the end, the detective Porfiry says, 'You need to suffer. We are to be the instrument,' you wonder who he's talking to - Raskolnikov or the audience?

'The Truman Capote Talk Show', is at the Lyric Studio, W6, until 14 May (081-741 8701). 'Crime and Punishment' is at BAC, London SW11, until 15 May (071-223 2223).

(Photograph omitted)