Ustinov Studio artistic director Laurence Boswell always makes a point of directing one of the new works in his excellent repertory season, now an established and much-lauded feature of the programme in the second house. For the current Transformation Season - bringing strong literary texts to life on stage for the first time - he has chosen to direct his own inventive adaptation of an 1846 Dostoevsky novella on the familiar themes of angst and distress, seen through the thoughts and actions of a downtrodden civil servant.
Obviously we don’t find the depth here of Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov, but this is still a potent mix of paranoia and theatrical artifice. The central character, played by Simon Scardifield with increasing despair, is a lowly government clerk who might have stepped straight out of a Russian version of The Office.
He awakes out of a nightmare to find he has a repugnant doppelganger, brilliantly represented by a full-size puppet designed and constructed by John Roberts, Jan Zalud, Sue Field and Lyndie Wright. This is not good news, for his double`s behaviour creates havoc, threatening to ruin both his professional and social life.
In addition to the life-size puppet, Boswell decorates the though-provoking narrative with a splendid collection of smaller marionettes, and the denouement is particularly telling in its portrait of mental disintegration. There is lively work also from the four supporting players - although, as always with Dostoyevsky, not many laughs here.