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Idiots review at Soho Theatre, London – ‘confusing’

Adam Colborne in Idiots at Soho Theatre, London. Photo: Richard Lakos Adam Colborne in Idiots at Soho Theatre, London. Photo: Richard Lakos
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In its nudges, its winks and the high-octane confidence of its central performer – Jonnie Bayfield, who co-writes and co-directs with Will Cowell – Idiots feels like a fringe comedy show: all that’s lacking here are the jokes.

While it’s a winningly brash, self-assured show in lots of ways, it has a half-formed feel that is occasionally reminiscent of a student revue. That’s not because the production looks cheap – it doesn’t – rather that the writers don’t ever fully interrogate their own ideas.

Half the show is a slightly po-faced semi-staging of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (although they go to great pains to remind us that this is not an adaptation). The other half, which is played more for laughs if over-stuffed with knob gags, sees Dostoevsky living in a flat on benefits, or possibly he’s in purgatory – it’s hard to tell. It’s a confusing premise that gets caught up in its own cleverness, and if there are deeper ideas at work here they haven’t been successfully drawn out.

Somewhat contradictorily, Idiots is both oblique and heavy-handed and also, somehow, both over-committed and not quite committed enough, tethering itself to a weird plot while trying to remain somehow distant from it. You can only be so arch before it risks driving a wedge between the audience and the work.

The production remains watchable, thanks to some inventive direction and strong performances, especially from the obviously very talented Bayfield – although in writing, directing and performing, it feels like he’s bitten off more than he can chew.

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Dostoevsky mash-up from a promising young company that fails to translate its likeable energy into coherent theatre