Political uprisings and the rule of the rich over the rest are themes evidenced across the globe every day, as illustrated by the relevance of the TFTV Department’s stage adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s political Russian novel Demons from 1872.
Although circumstances and political debates shift and change with time, the effective contemporary reinterpretation of Dostoyevsky’s novel by Hannah Davies and Tom Cornford highlights an undeniable continuity of human nature and society. The play begins with the ensemble chanting random catchphrases that we are familiarly bombarded with in our everyday lives such as “buy one, get one free!”, “unlimited free wifi!” and “we are organic”. The use of lit mobile phones and stylised hypnotic movements serve to furthermore highlight the attachment we have to consumerist culture, and how much we are controlled by the market, media and technology. Within the first ten minutes of the production, I was already questioning the phrases I read in the media that I never thought twice about before and my alarming dependence and addiction to my iPhone.
Demons essentially focuses around the gradual uprising of a group of radical individuals who disagree with the elitist, hierarchical society in which they live. The play incorporates many familiar aspects of modern society such as technological movements and the control of the rich over the disenfranchised poor and young that really make the original themes in Dostoyevsky’s novel hit home.
This adaptation includes a variety of characters played by the same actors in the cast, which although slightly confusing at times, assists in expressing the dynamics of the different relationships within the hierarchical society and across political stances. The characters from Dostoyevsky’s novel were successfully translated into modern identities that much of the audience could understand and recognise from their own lives, with the entire ensemble making effective use of performance space, physicality and each other. I found the characters Nick (Jason Ryall) and Petra (Venetia Cook) to be the most enthralling, as they added a very dynamic and energetic element to the production. They both showed strong passions and urgencies that contrasted with the heavy dialogue and portrayal of the privileged elite class, particularly due to the fact that Petra was the rallying leader of the radical technological revolt.
The use of floor lighting and an intricate and surrounding lighting design made many of the scenes even more impactful, most notably seen with the highly choreographed riot sequences and the scene where the Therapist (Amilee Jobin) films Nick (Ryall) confessing his abuse of a little girl. Additionally, the Ambisonic 3D sound effects emphasised the encompassing quality of the radical movement as it builds throughout the story. The contrast between the jazzy, commercial music and muffled sounds of TV anchors, rioting and white noise aided in setting the pace and oftentimes tense mood of the play. The set, although quite minimalist with not much more being used than tables, was expertly used to create completely diverging settings, from dinner parties to police barricades.
What stood out as the most successful and captivating aspects of Demons were the intense riot scenes involving balaclavas, bang snaps and smoke, the incorporation of a diverse range of characters and the continued energy and presence of the cast. Although the dialogue seemed quite heavy at times and the casting of multiple characters to individual actors was sometimes hard to follow, Demons undoubtedly succeeded in being topical and controversial, making me question my own lifestyle and society. The production elements were of a high standard and the show was overall enjoyable and politically impactful. Although it was definitely a large task to adapt Dostoyevsky’s novel into a modern, 90-minute play, Demons manages to capture the essential elements of the story in a new and intriguing light.
Demons will be performed by the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at The Fleeting Arms, 54 Gillygate, York, from June 17-18 at 7:30pm. Box office: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk / 01904 623568