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 The Theatreguide.London Review


...Some Trace of Her
Cottesloe Theatre Summer-Autumn 2008

The unfolding tale of Prince Myshkin and Rogozhin, friends turned rivals because of their desire for the same woman, Nastasya, is the subject of the tragic love triangle that is at the core of Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot. Dostoevsky's main characters are complex and display through inner monologues a gamut of thoughts and emotions.

Translating that into a coherent staged drama is a mammoth task even for an innovative director such as Katie Mitchell. Her method is one some will have seen before, in her productions of Waves and Attempts On Her Life, the combination of live performers with video projections of them.

Mitchell's direction reverses the conventional roles of stage and backdrop. The audience is privy to the live actors as they perform for the cameras and the events are projected in black and white on the screen. No one onstage speaks directly - instead their words and thoughts are transmitted as voiceovers. And, as in the earlier shows, figures who don't interact onstage are made to connect through their images on a large screen.

To appreciate Mitchell's interesting direction one may compare the stage interpretation of the opening to The Idiot's opening sentence, 'Towards the end of November, during the thaw, at nine o'clock one morning, a train on the Warsaw to Petersburg line approached the latter city at full speed.' On stage the journey is created by Ben Whishaw moving his head and torso as if on a moving train. The act is magnified on the screen together with the appropriate sound and you get the desired effect - our hero is on a fast moving train.

An element of dramatic tension is generated by the duality of the live acting on the stage and the screen projections. However that tension not only fails to reach a crescendo, but it deflates interest in the fate of the characters. The audience's involvement in the unfolding drama wanes and is replaced by fascination with the technical making of the projected scenes.

Yet there are elements of ingenuity in Mitchell's production. Apart from using black and white film, capturing something of period in which the story is set, the zooming in on facial expressions of talented performers such as Whishow and Hatti Morahan communicates the inner turmoil they are experiencing. The audience hear something of Myshkin's aspirations when he utters at the outset his list of 'I want...' He wants 'the truth...solitude...to live wisely...to disappear entirely' and more besides.

There is an additional symbolism in the juxtaposition of fractured reality on stage and the illusionary reality on the screen. When Prince Myshkin is seen on the screen sitting at the table dining with others, on stage it is clear that he is isolated, situated all alone on one side of the stage with an empty soup bowl on his lap. The empty spoon he takes to his lips is projected on the screen as if it is full of soup, because the camera is actually showing Nastasya's spoon.

This projection of the disparity between what seems to be reality and actuality provides the depth needed to appreciate something of Dostoevsky's complex characters. Unfortunately the rapid movement from one scene to the next creates a series of sketches with rather weak links, affecting the unspoken dialogue between audience and characters. As the fascination with events taking place on stage is reduced to technical appreciation of what is attempted to be staged, much of what makes the novel great is lost.

The performance of the cast and support team is superlative. The facial expressions captured by the cameras and by the actors operating them are engaging. Unfortunately the unfolding story comes across as disjointed and incoherent and, even worse, unengaging.

Rivka Jacobson

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Review - Some Trace of Her - National 2008