Review: Some Trace Of Her

By John Nathan, August 15, 2008
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Cottesloe, National Theatre, London SE1
★★★★✩

The National Theatre's one-woman avant-garde department, director Katie Mitchell, has done for Dostoevsky's 1868 novel The Idiot what she did for Virginia Woolf's The Waves.

A giant video screen overlooks an area that serves as both stage and TV studio. The cast, led by Ben Whishaw as the guileless hero Prince Myshkin, double as technicians, setting up scene after scene with video cameras, props and incredibly well-drilled timing.

The result is a simultaneous screen and stage adaptation. Dostoevsky's plot, which follows Myshkin's progress in Russian high society after years abroad, takes second place to the techniques which Mitchell uses to convey story and melancholic mood. The drama lies mainly in seeing how the results on the screen above are constructed on the stage below. Take, for instance, a close-up of Myshkin being fussed over by two women who are brushing down his shoulders. A glance at the stage reveals that one fussing hand belongs to a fellow cast member, the other is in fact Whishaw's own hand. Illusion is created and immediately shattered. There technique induces wonder, even if you sometimes wonder about the point. But there is a truth about theatre revealed here - how plays are built out of a series of deceptions. (Tel: 020 7452 3000)

    Last updated: 12:18pm, August 14 2008