A toast to humanity
As they prepare mark the 200th anniversary of Dostoevsky's birth, a theatre in Russia has turned to Finnish theatre maker Johanna Freundlich to commission a stage adaptation of Crime and Punishment. Her interpretation gives voice to a fragile young person.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of F M Dostoevsky’s (1821-1881) birth. In Veliky Novgorod, one of the many places the author called home during his life, the jubilee year will culminate in a Dostoevsky-themed festival. The line-up for the November event will include a Finnish dramatisation of Crime and Punishment. It will be the first time the novel is seen on stage in the city. The creative team now have their sights set on the autumn – castings are currently taking place for the play’s three central roles: Rodion Raskolnikov, Sonia Marmeladov and Porfiry Petrovitch.
As long as there’s crime, we’re going to have these never-ending quarrels and squabbles, all this floating off to space, all this endless banging of the drum. But I’d like to propose a toast, dear colleagues. No matter what happens, however things turn out… Let us drink to humanity.
Johanna Freundlich has been working with Crime and Punishment since at least 2015, when her dramatisation for the Finnish National Theatre’s Touring Stage began to take shape. The production then hit the road, touring prisons and young people’s residential care homes around Finland. The invitation to the 2019 Dostoevsky festival was issued after director Daniil Donchenko and producer Alexander Kofanov from the Fyodor Dostoevsky Theater of Dramatic Art saw the production in Helsinki. A visit by Freundlich and her production to Veliky Novgorod followed:
“I was surprised and delighted by the feedback we received from the Russians. I’d somehow persuaded myself that we couldn’t possible have anything to contribute to their canon. It’s astonishing to witness how a performance, given in a language you have no direct access to, can still resonate. Their comments to us spoke of an emotional connection, and with young audiences too, the kind who wouldn’t otherwise go to the theatre.”
The visitors from Veliky Novgorod were so impressed they extended an invitation for the production to be included in the Dostoevsky anniversary celebrations, translated into Russian this time. In Freundlich’s Crime and Punishment, the story is narrated by young people. In the original Finnish version, the narrators were residents from Finnish young offender institutions, while in Veliky Novgorod the plan is to give voice to youngsters from local children’s homes.
“Daniil Donchenko, the director, really cares about young people. That’s something we have in common as, back in the day, I used to work in youth services myself, in some of the most ethnically diverse areas in Finland. The experiences I gained during those 18 months have really helped me to see things from a different perspective. That’s important, because I spend so much of my time working in the theatre with other, mostly well-to-do, adults, encased in my own professional bubble,” Johanna Freundlich says.
As with the Finnish production, professional actors will be on hand in Veliky Novgorod to perform the roles of Raskolnikov, Marmeladov and Porfiry.
"What I’m looking for is youth, vulnerability, a sense of something having been crushed, broken. The thing about Raskolnikov and Sonia is that they’re young, neither one of them is some cold-blooded killer. And there’s a lightness and irony to Porfiry, the police officer, to add a bit of levity to all the bleakness. The angstier the others get, the jollier he becomes. He’s also a bit of a father figure, a definite adult on the scene.”
Everyone needs a place to go. A place you can leave other places to go to. D’you know what it feels like not to have anywhere like that?
Johanna Freundlich says that, along with many of her Finnish colleagues, she is a fully paid-up member of the F M Dostoevsky fan club. And of all his work, it is Crime and Punishment that resonates with her most:
“The story, on the face of it, could not be more simple or straightforward: a person kills another person, they face up to what they’ve done, they confess. And yet it’s incredibly complex. And I have to say, having worked in these residential care homes for young people, the story is not in any sense farfetched. We were sort of hesitating with Sonia’s character until we realised that the people working with us had experienced the same things, and worse.”
Due to open in November 2021, Crime and Punishment is a joint production by the Fyodor Dostoevsky Theater of Dramatic Art, the Dostoevsky Theatre Festival and Johanna Freundlich in collaboration with Theatre Info Finland (TINFO). Freundlich is also responsible for set, costume and prop design alongside the theatre’s in-house staff. Three members from the theatre’s permanent cast will be appearing on stage.
Sound design will again be by Petteri Mård, and the translation into Russian and Finnish to Russian interpretation will be provided by Armen Igitian. The Fyodor Dostoevsky Theater of Dramatic Art is currently planning to take the production on a tour of Russian children’s homes and young offender institutions.
TINFO / Sari Havukainen, 17 May 2021
Quotations from the dramatisation of Crime and Punishment by Johanna Freundlich.