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November 6, 2006

Redefining Intimacy

Crime and Punishment
Town Hall Studio, Galway

By Sean Collier

In the almost perfect confines of the Town Hall Theatre's upstairs studio, Patrick Curley, as Raskolnikov, stares at the audience, not three feet from their chairs.

He is horrified, but he continues speaking to us, as if it is the only thing keeping him on his feet. He describes his terror at a dream where he looks out over a 'sea of staring eyes' and sees a girl beckoning to him from the back of the crowd. We forget we are the audience at a play, and we become the silent eyes that are judging Raskolnikov without giving him the courtesy of a response.

The most remarkable thing about the Ninth Wave theatre company's adaptation of the classic Dostoyevsky novel is its setting. Converting the small rehearsal space into Raskolnikov's flat, the experience feels less like theatre and more like a bizarre interactive event. Raskolnikov may be the central character of the play, but the audience comes in at a close second. Lit mainly by the streetlights falling into the studio from outside the theatre, the play redefines the intimate. These are the moments when the adaptation is the strongest; when we are alone with Raskolnikov and he must defend his life from us.

The play does not follow the action of the novel in any linear sense. Instead, we watch as Raskolnikov recalls his encounters with others following his crime. As he re-enacts these conversations with images projected on the wall of the theatre, also played by Curley, he descends further into guilt, illness and semi-madness.

The play suffers a bit with the entrance of Sonia, the only other actor to actually appear in the piece; when this other element is brought in, the contract is broken, and we are torn from Raskolnikov's world and placed into a more voyeuristic role. Neassa Walsh, as Sonia, is capable but can't keep up with Curley's tour de force.

Still, the experience is unique and memorable. Experiences like these, experiences that redefine what it means to go to the theatre are essential. They shake us from the complacency of the audience and remind us that the stage is not the screen, the page, or any other medium. We may not leave as haunted as Raskolnikov is, but we are certainly in a different place than we were when we sat down.