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Review: Crime and Punishment (The Scoop)

Toyah Willcox's musical adaptation takes place in London's free open air theatre

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Summer is not over yet. Open air theatre is still happening all over the place, not least at The Scoop, London's free theatre by the river, which is positively basking in the warmth of this late heatwave we're having. This year, resident company Gods and Monsters, in their typically ambitious way, stage an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's hefty novel. The night I saw it, as the sun set on the Thames, chilly nineteenth century Russia couldn't have felt further away.

That may also be down to the fact that this isn't a straight-down-the-line adaptation of Crime and Punishment, this is a rock musical version with songs from Toyah Willcox and Simon Darlow. Director, adaptor – and also performer – Phil Willmott infuses the show with a steam punk edge. The cast wear kooky googles and ruffled, quasi-period costumes, while the set evokes a grubby, dark sense of the impressive baroque architecture of St Petersburg - looming over the action.

It's the tale of a student who is driven - by worry and the threat of mounting debt - to kill someone, with the excuse that axe-murdering someone is probably OK if it's for the good of the people. Willmott's book gets everything in but it is laboured and clunky. The book also seems to swerve from one intense emotion to another with barely a beat. It gets a little exhausting.

As usual with this company, everything is done on a shoe-string, and here that means several moments have a real amateurish feel. Probably the company would be best working more on what they have – script, actors, songs, space – than trying to strong arm in a couple of spectacles. The Angel of Death – a literal representation of a demon with huge green wings – really wasn't needed.

The cast are all very dedicated and mostly good, especially seeing as on the night I saw it, the leading man had broken his ankle. Understudy Jack Watson was book in hand as Raskolnikov and if the book hadn't actually been there, you would have been hard-pressed to notice it was his first time in the role.

The songs have a surprisingly - or perhaps not, given that Wilcox wrote them - '80s edge, with a touch of Arcade Fire and Morrissey also coming through at odd moments. They are punchy and upbeat and work well belted out in the open air like they are. There's not much nuance to them, but when you're playing to a crowd of tourists and after-work drop-ins, then perhaps you don't need too much of that.

Crime and Punishment runs at The Scoop until 25 September.