Cottesloe (National Theatre)
Where: West End
31 July 2008 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews There is a really fascinating account in the programme for in the Cottesloe of the working method and rehearsal process adopted by director ...some trace of her Katie Mitchell and her colleagues on this theatre-and-film version of Dostoevsky’s great novel The Idiot.
I say “adopted” because there is an inescapable air of “setting out to do something experimental” in this method that suited
Waves, her 2006 production of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves much better. Woolf’s dream-like fragments of remembered experience and inner thoughts were ideally conveyed in a melange of sound, filmed episodes and brief re-enactments that amounted to a theatrical totality.
One isn’t necessarily looking for narrative consistency in this use of detailed close-up, conflicting yet complimentary imagery of screen and stage, maudlin string quartet music (played live) and endless fiddling about with camera angles, sound levels and lighting spills. But even if you’ve read the novel recently, you’d have a hard time guessing what the hell was going on.
Mitchell and her collaborators have at least understood very well that
The Idiot is primarily a book about obsession and madness, and the show they present boils down to a succession of states of mind, whispered confessions of fear and loathing, love and helplessness.
There is a tragic symmetry in the love triangle of the unutterably beautiful Nastasya Filippovna (
Hattie Morahan) and her rival suitors, the “mad” Christ-like Prince Myshkin ( Ben Whishaw) and the impassioned merchant’s son Rogozhin ( Jamie Ballard, recently Jonathan Miller’s Hamlet in Bristol). Encounters on trains and at parties are squashed together in a morbid gloaming which especially favours Whishaw’s unique brand of intelligent moping; he enacts the epileptic fit with frightening ferocity.
The National first produced
The Idiot, in a stage version by Simon Gray, at the Old Vic in 1970. Derek Jacobi was the prince and a huge cast included Morahan’s mother, Anna Carteret, as a walk-on. It was a literal, heavy-handed evening. This is the opposite, and I suppose preferable, but it remains locked inside its methodology and curiously uninvolving.
Mitchell’s regular team of designer
Vicki Mortimer, lighting designer Paule Constable and sound man Gareth Fry all provide skilled technical back-up, but this is not a revelatory Dostoevsky exercise to compare with the work of Tadeusz Kantor or Andrzej Wajda, whose 1994 film Nastasya is a compelling, hallucinogenic account of the book’s final chapter.
- Michael Coveney
Score Comment Date Fortunately, theatre is subjective and, in my view, some trace of her is an oustanding piece of work. Katie Mitchell and her remarkable team produce haunting and memorable images which beautifully convey aspects of The Idiot. Ben Whishaw and Hattie Morahan are quite stunning. - fred 18 Oct 08 The only thing I take issue with in Michael Coveney's WOS review is the that the programme notes ae fascinating. I found them very dull; otherwise, I'm with him on how uninvolving this production was. It is completely at the mercy of its technique, a victim of its method. On stage you mostly get lots of equipment-moving, camera pointing, technical set-ups; on screen you get amateurish images resulting from all this activity, so we're left with neither a decent stage show or a good 'film'. When Katie Mitchell moves away from the South Bank she produces good, effective, sparse work, underlining how she seems to treat the NT as a sort of toyshop, in which they unfortunately indulge her. This production, with its ludicrous "...", is an example of KM putting her stamp on a piece so heavily it's flattened beyond recognition. - Sycamore Flint 07 Oct 08
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