Front page


Shifting the spotlight

24 Jul 12 | Re: Good source material | Link-U-Post

My mother-in-law got me Crime and Punishment for my birthday (which is to say, she got me a book token and I then bought Crime and Punishment - thanks Sue). I’ve read it —not my birthday this year, silly!— and enjoyed it. But the bits I liked most weren’t the bits that make it Crime and Punishment.

As you might know, the main plot of the book centres around one Raskolnikov. He commits a murder right near the start, and over the rest of the narrative has to come to terms with his unacceptable behaviour. Well, that central arc is quite good, but it’d be unfair to Dostoevsky to think that it was the only thing in the book. In telling us Raskolnikov’s story, the author introduces us to lots of other characters – characters who are sparklingly well-drawn and full of interest, and who have their own intriguing little sub-plots taking place just to the side of the murder/guilt-based main show.

So delightful and true and engaging are these characters that I got to thinking that you could take Raskolnikov out of the book entirely and still be left with a gem of a nineteenth-century realist novel. As I say, it wouldn’t be Crime and Punishment; it probably wouldn’t be any more read than the works of the Spanish master Benito Perez Galdos, but it wouldn’t be any worse than his excellent novelas contemporáneas either.

In fact, following this Raskolnikov-excising approach, I believe Crime and Punishment would be excellent material for a pantomime. Instead of all that unpleasant murder business, the action would centre on Razhumihin, the idealistic, pure-hearted young man come to Petersburg to seek his fortune. He has a love interest in Dounia, superb dame material in Mrs Raskolnikov, and a wonderfully absurd but still threatening villain in Dounia’s rich suitor Luzhin. Then you have Svidrigailov working his intrigues to complicate the middle acts, and a few funny one-scene cameo roles like the Exploding Constable. Result: a quite superlative panto.

You’d be best not to write Raskolnikov out completely. He’d actually make a perfect, hapless Buttons-type character, mooning over Sofia and never getting anywhere despite his friends’ efforts. It could be a running joke that he’s committed this murder and is constantly trying to drop hints so that he can be “found out” and relieve his terrible guilt. But unbeknownst to him, all his friends already know: they’re just too polite to say. When left alone on stage, the lighting gets starkly dramatic and he confides in the audience: “I... am A MURDERER”. When he’s off stage, others tut tut over his mental state, never judge him (she was a mean old harpy anyway), and wonder whether they ought to talk to him about it, but they always keep up the charade.

If anyone wants to collaborate on a Crime and Punishment panto script, do get in touch.


[Back to main blog]

[Or dive into the blarchive...]

Take me home