It’s 36 years since playwright Richard Crane and director Faynia Williams were commissioned to create a stage version of The Brothers Karamazov for the 1981 Edinburgh Festival; and if Dostoevsky’s great 1880 novel is itself a timeless classic, then over the years Crane’s adaptation has also acquired a certain classic status, enjoying many revivals, from America and Australia to Russia and Romania.
The Brothers Karamazov ****
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Now, to celebrate its 35th birthday, the Tron has invited Faynia Williams – its founding artistic director in 1982 – to create a new production for Glasgow, in 2017. And the result is a beautiful, thought-provoking, but sometimes slightly baffling show, in which the novel’s great and ever-relevant themes – the clash between religious faith and scientific rationalism, the nature of morality itself – swirl powerfully round and through a cast of four who sometimes rise magnificently to the challenge, and sometimes seem almost overwhelmed by the complexity of a narrative in which all four Karamazov brothers take turns to play their corrupt old father simply by donning his great fur cloak, and also play many other characters of dream and nightmare.
Sean Biggerstaff is impressive in the key role of the middle son Ivan, increasingly contemptuous of faith in a savage world; Tom England gives the play a compelling moral centre as the youngest, Alyosha. And with Carys Hobbs’s towering lecture-theatre set providing a fitting arena for Dostoevsky’s dissection of human lives and morals, Stephen Boxer’s fine choral music helps to propel the play to a climax of fierce humanistic passion for its characters; despite some moments when drama seems about to be crushed by theory, and by Dostoevsky’s mighty avalanches of prose.
*Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 28 October