The Double (after Dostoevsky) White Bear Theatre 21 March


Picture from Theatre 6 Facebook page

I feel guilty about not liking this more, because in many ways it was very well done and the good ideas exhibited by the director and adaptor Kate McGregor deserve encouragement.  But there were just too many of these good ideas to fit into the time and space available–the rolling doorframes needed to be moved round lots of time and the live music played by members of what was clearly a very gifted cast was just too loud.  And the lamps raised and lowered to show who was at work, the stellazh of candles at the back, the frequent scene changes and rearrangement of props–it was all too much…

I wonder if Kate McGregor as director had really managed to extract the dramatic essence of the source novella–the idea is that the Petersburg clerk Golyadkin has been  behaving a bit oddly and suffered a bit of a setback in both love and career, when another Golyadkin appears and takes over his existence.  So is he mad or is there really a double at work?

The Petersburg point is important–the city has (has always had) the air of a giant theatrical set, indeed of an unconvincing attempt to overlay European order on primeval Russian chaos, and it’s also bloody foggy, so it’s quite easy to see things that aren’t there. Hence or otherwise, Gogol and Dostoevsky (and indeed Pushkin) set a particular type of grimly fanntastic narrative there.

But there was no trace of this here–the action was all too present and real.  Kate McGregor’s production notes attempted to draw a parallel between the novella and Dostoevsky’s own fate when the radical group he belonged to as a young man was infiltrated by the organs of state security, but what struck me was that the ‘real’ Golyadkin of  Ben Galpin looked very like the young Nikolai Gogol, while Freddie Machin as the surrogate (or hallucination) had the look of Dostoevsky himself as a young man.

And they played their parts very well, as did the rest of the cast.  And those who played instruments also played very well.  But we just needed less–less in the text to start off with, and then less on the stage.

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