The last time director Dominic Hill and playwright Chris Hannan worked together was on The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain.
A critical hit at Edinburgh’s Traverse in 2010, this thrilling adaptation won Best Play and Best Ensemble in the 2011 Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland as well as being nominated in two further categories.
Although it was pitched at the Christmas family market, it was a dark and dirty version of the tale. A dissolute bunch past their prime, Porthos, Athos and Aramis inhabited a festering and plague-ridden country that was marked by terrible disparities of wealth. Although love won out in the end, there was nothing romantic about Hannan’s rendition nor Hill’s staging.
Seen like that, it is not such a leap from the swashbuckling stories of Alexandre Dumas to the slow torment and hard-headed realism of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. This latest collaboration between the playwright and director, who is now running Glasgow’s Citizens, is a three-theatre venture that will transfer to the Liverpool Playhouse and Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum after its inaugural run in the Gorbals.
Also reunited for the production are designer Colin Richmond, lighting designer Chris Davey and Macedonian composer Nikola Kodjabashia, whose live score will be performed alongside traditional Russian psalms.
Set in an impoverished St Petersburg, Crime and Punishment tells the feverish tale of Raskolnikov, a student drop-out driven by a strange compulsion to commit a double murder and then forced to live with the psychological consequences. It is a novel, said Norman Mailer, that “tackles freedom and strength, suffering and madness, illness and fate, and the pressures of the modern urban world on the soul”.
Not a million miles away from the squalid streets of the Three Musketeers’ pre-revolutionary France, Dostoyevsky’s 19th-century St Petersburg is cramped, hot and putrid. This is a place where a change of clothes is a luxury, where the smallest trinket is quickly pawned and where every kopeck counts (the author himself was in constant fear of debtors’ prison).
“It’s an amazing experience: a crime thriller plus a novel of ideas; a whodunit meets Karl Marx and Jesus Christ,” says Hannan. “Reading the novel, you enter into the mind of the central character, the student who commits murder, and go on a huge emotional and spiritual journey with him. That’s the journey Dominic and I want to give theatre audiences.”
• Crime and Punishment, Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, today until 28 September; Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 22 October until 9 November. www.citz.co.uk