On paper, this ought to be a cracker. Enda Walsh is the coming thing; Chatroom brought his name to the collective consciousness and The Walworth Farce is keeping it there, courtesy of the NT. The iconoclastic Theatre O, meanwhile, has already arrived. Their 2001 show 3 Dark Tales acquired a passionate following through the power of word-of-mouth, and the company's reputation has mushroomed ever since. Sadly though, with Delirium they are not quite on the plot.
There's plot aplenty in The Brothers Karamazov, on which their play is based, and that's the problem. Dostoevsky's weighty philosophical and theological dialectic sits uneasily within the sound and fury of Theatre O's theatre of chaos. It's like putting red meat in a soufflé. Director Joseph Alford has his heart in the right place, and he and Enda Walsh certainly find some troubling parallels between Dostoevsky's world and our own times, but as a theatrical experiment Delirium overreaches itself.
We first encounter Alyosha, youngest of the Karamazov brothers, as he attempts to come to terms with the outside world following a monastic education. His brothers, Ivan and Mitya, are at war with their father, Fyodor; there are two women in the emotional stew, and everyone behaves rather hysterically for two and a half hours. Alyosha preaches, Ivan counter-preaches and, ultimately, the servant Smerdyokov outpreaches them all to the accompaniment of a vivid piece of animation by Paddy Molloy.
It is undeniably ambitious – and beautifully lit by Aideen Malone – but none of the show's many moods coalesce into a dramatic whole. At best Delirium is a ramshackle sketch show without the laughs; at worst, and I'm thinking of the final ten minutes or so, it slips into sententiousness.
The seven actors play the piece for all it's worth, and their startling energy propels it forward relentlessly (rather too relentlessly most of the time, for they do rather bludgeon us with the material). Alford himself gives a self-effacing performance as Alyosha, and he is well partnered by Dominic Burgess and Nick Lee as Ivan and Mitya. Denis Quilligan is a marvellously vile Fyodor, while Lucien MacDougall's Smerdyokov is a magnetic, lurking presence who could have stepped straight off the stage of a Parisian café-théâtre. The two women, Carolina Valdés and Julie Bower, are riveting to watch as they bring the troubled family to the boil.
If the gifted creative team had turned their talents to a Victorian potboiler, say, rather than Dostoevsky's complex masterpiece, I can imagine all seven of them giving us a knockout evening of knockabout hokum. That would certainly work the Theatre O way; this doesn't.