For the sake of Dostoyevsky purists it is worth mentioning off the bat that IDIOTS, as a giant, expensive sign on the back of the stage tells you at sporadic intervals, is not an adaptation. A frenetic gallivant through the great Russian author’s life and works, the performance exists almost as a bizarre interrogation rather than a cogent narrative which, whilst refreshingly niche, did come with a few faults.
Fyodor is dead. He’s living in purgatory, beneath Mr Blobby and his Thai Bride, while on benefits. The Bureaucrat, a nameless, blank slate of a man, comes to validate his support claim. Running alongside this is a shoehorned, abbreviated version of The Idiot, reduced down to its central tragic love triangle in its purest of elements. The play does a fantastic job in mirroring the events and attitudes of Dostoyevsky’s life and his character Myshkin – the two having concurrent attitudes and reactions in a way that would tickle the interest of any literary historian.
IDIOT is laden with humorous and niche concepts, anarchically thrown around a vague, office-space set stuffed with copies of The Idiot and other paraphernalia. The tone is entirely left field, and as such it is the fantastic Jonnie Bayfield in the central role as the writer that holds the piece together with aplomb – his Dostoyevsky is an energetic tour-de-force that romps across the stage and through the audience, funny even when managing to wedge a foot inside a chair and causing the whole show to come to a temporary and hilarious halt.
The performance had a comfortably devised feeling to it – Caligula’s key emphasis was to place entertainment over the need to conform to any literary standards, and this worked with aplomb – the rebelliousness instilled a sense of excitability and energy.
Whilst Bayfield pulled off both Dostoyevsky and Myshkin with fantastic relatability, the retelling of The Idiot felt slightly more shoehorned and underwhelming. Even one of the characters, relieved at its tragic conclusion, praised God for the fact it was over – an ironic and slightly too on-the-mark. This wasn’t to fault any of the actors – Stewart Agnew’s Rasputin-esque Rogozhin and Jessica Lee-Hopkins’ Nastasya matched Bayfield’s wild performance with a fantastic intensity. The main issue lay in the fact that the show tried to both halves of its cake, cover them both in disco lights and funky sounds, before eating everything whilst enduring an existential crisis and a few funny jigs. There simply felt as though there was too much going on.
By the time the show ran itself over the finish line to the sounds of Elton John, it finally settled on a suitable form of pathos – one provided with gusto by Adam Colborne’s aforementioned Bureaucrat. Up until the end Bureaucrat (first name The) felt slightly too one-note, imbued with a brisk optimism and dedication to quality. This was thankfully remedied by Colborne’s final monologue, a stark reminder of the dangers and affronts of normality, and how simply living can be tougher than we think. It felt like a slightly whacky cousin to the famous closing scene from Mad Men, and for that it, and the whole show, should be caught whilst it can.
Check it out at the Soho for the next couple of days.
Co-Artistic Director of Caligula’s Alibi, Jonnie Bayfield, was a member of SYC Writers’ Lab2013-14.
Running Time: 60 mins
Age Recommendation: 15+
Q&A with the company
Fri 1 Apr, 7.15pm
Part of Red Button Theatre Events in association with Bertha Dochouse