Brothers Karamazov, 5 Stars

Brothers Karamazov
12th to 28th October 2017
Tron Theatre, Glasgow

“A cast of four, Thierry Mabonga, Tom England, Mark Brailsford and Sean Biggerstaff (who made his acting debut at the Tron in 1993 in Michael Boyd’s acclaimed production of Macbeth), play the Brothers Karamazov and double as the other principal players and the piece will be designed by Carys Hobbs, with costume by Katherina Radeva, lighting design by Sergey Jakovsky, choreography by Darren Brownlie and musical direction by Matt Regan.
With wit and compassion and underscored by Stephen Boxer’s haunting a capella harmonies sung by the four brothers, Crane’s version is a superlative distillation of Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece, tackling the huge philosophical questions of faith and immortality, the rights of children and nationalism versus the European ideal. In the precarious world of 2017, this work has never been more politically, socially or spiritually pertinent.”

Ivan: Sean Biggerstaff
Smerdyakov: Mark Brailsford
Alyosha: Tom England
Dmitry: Thierry Mabonga

Written by Richard Crane
Directed by Faynia Williams
Set Design by Carys Hobbs
Costume Design Katherina Radeva
Lighting Design Sergey Jakovsky
Original Music by Stephen Boxer
Musical direction Matt Regan
Choreography Darren Brownlie

Reviewed by Roy Butler

Brothers Karamazov is a technically brilliant piece of theatre that holds its audience rapt from the outset.

It is the story of four brothers, who, for reasons unique to each, return to the home of their wealthy absent father and find, in profit, their own tragic reckonings with him, with each other and with themselves.  Brothers Karamazov is a story of family, an indictment of an age and an enduring commentary of the power of socio-political revolution.

It is understood that Dostoyevsky himself claimed Brothers Karamazov can be expressed in full from the point of the view of the four brothers.  In response, Richard Crane offers up a script for a cast of just four, men who assume the primary personas of a brother each and share out all other characters between them with the help of simple devices: a fur robe here, a monk’s vestment there.  The result is a script design that is hard-going in the beginning, yet engages the imagination of the audience with ever increasing effectiveness.

With the focus on the four brothers, every other aspect of the production is stripped down.  The play starts and ends with a capella song in four-part harmony by the cast, set in the wings above and behind the audience.  Song, in fact, is a common feature of the production, done by all brothers, often together and typically harmoniously, contrasting sharply with the schisms that tear them apart.  And with their song are interludes of dance which also service to reinforce their fraternity in light of the acrimony between them.  It is apparent that the musical and choreographic direction on Brothers Karamazov was approached sympathetic to the requirements of each, a triumph for the cast and, most importantly, for the spectator.

Lighting design centres on the subdued, creating an ambience that presages tragedy and allows the persona of each character and the character of each relationship to shine.  Spotlights are used at critical moments of dialogue and monologue to emphasise character development, with the effect of guiding the audience along each core element of plot.  (This is considerably more effective in Act 2, where the pace is slower and aspects of conflict more clear.)  There is rarely ever a flood of light on set, and when there is it is soft and ominous.

The set itself is a 10-sided dais, complete with a multi-levelled series of platforms at the rear offering up both height and depth for the performance.  Soil covers the floor, on which the cast treads barefoot.  Aspects of the set become a table here, a raised catwalk there.  There are four chairs available at need.  The set provokes a very physical performance, one that ties characters to the land (of their father) and their accountability and bonds to each other.  It also incites intimacy, a motif of filial connection that imbues the production throughout.

Family, blood ties, brotherhood and the opposing aspects of difference and division become realised also in the costume.  The four brothers – Dmitry, Ivan, Alexey and Smerdyakov – are men with different histories and upbringings, passions and wants, and, correspondingly, four different modes of dress.  Yet, for all this, they remain Karamazovs.  So, at the close of events, when each is condemned to his own tragic fate, they arrive at a place where they intrinsically must wear the same thing, and do.

Director Faynia Williams realises the script by clever design.  She has cast four very distinct actors to portray the very distinctive brothers, and through choreography, song and tricks of light has created a successful ensemble piece of vanguard theatre that is relevant, powerful and provocative.

Prepare to laugh.  Expect to cry.  And during its limited run at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, on the centenary of the October Revolution, catch it while you can.

Venue: Main Auditorium, Tron Theatre, 63 Trongate, Glasgow G1 5HB
Dates: 12 – 28 OCTOBER, 7.45pm
Matinee 21 OCT, 2.30pm, BSL & AD
26 OCT, 7.45pm CAP
Tickets: £10-£16
Box Office: 0141 552 4267 or