Two weeks ago in Warwick I saw the first British performance of this solo Dostoevsky adaptation, not knowing that it was also the first time actor Bruce Myers had played it in public. This goes some way towards explaining the disintegration of his memory on that occasion, limping through the 50-minute performance with frequent resort to a copy of the text. Clearly, such an event was no basis on which to review the production. However, it lends a particular perspective to the much changed version I returned to on its arrival in London.
In far greater command of his lines now, Myers is also freed to attend to his characterisation. Nothing ostentatious, for this is a Peter Brook production; but there is a more palpable air of austere command about the figure of the Cardinal Inquisitor who addresses the silent figure of Christ, returned to 16th-century Seville. As he details how the Church has chosen to embrace the temporal power and exaltation which Jesus spurned, and to save the innocent masses by protecting them from the truth, Myers’ Inquisitor combines the pride of mastery with the self-deluding humility of imagined service. He is also, of course, able to give more of an intelligible shape to an argument of Jesuitical complexity and density.
The most obvious change is the addition of a second presence onstage, billed simply as The Listener. Rohit Bagai sits, silent and immobile, as the Inquisitor attempts to indict Him. This, too, adds to the dynamic of the piece, although Myers has not yet sorted out the business of delivering some sections to the figure and others out to the audience. Mostly, however, I suspect that Bagai’s function may be to sit in a particular spot, a few feet in front of an apparatus that looked out of place on an otherwise bare stage and may have been a TelePrompTer. For most of Myers’ performance he kept Bagai in line of sight between him and this contrivance, such that taking a prompt would have looked all but undetectable as his gaze barely deviated; two or three times Myers hesitated in his lines when looking elsewhere, only to resume with greater assurance after glancing back in that direction. If this is indeed what was happening, it was both discreet and ingenious. However, it’s hardly in the Brookian spirit whereby performers and audience share in an intimate communion of narrative re-creation.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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