Confession. Prior to reading the press release of the Lyceum’s current season, I had never heard of James Hogg or his novel Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Apparently it is on the school curriculum and is a well-regarded work. The programme notes make an interesting case for its importance and some of the other reviews were written by people who obviously loved the original. And maybe the original novel is good. I don’t know, I haven’t read it.
However, the production killed any desire in me to read the book.
Don’t get me wrong. It was actually a well polished production. Mark Thomson’s direction was quite fluid and used the space well, and I rather liked the design concept. I have to confess to being a sucker for revolving stages, and I thought that this was used effectively here. And I think the ensemble work was quite solid.
But with all of those strengths, Justified Sinner was still one of the dullest performances I have seen this year.
So where did it all go wrong? I can’t blame the performances. In fact, I thought that leads Ryan Fletcher and Iain Robertson were both excellent, and there were some really good supporting performances. And as I’ve already mentioned, the production values were all very good.
What didn’t work, however, was Thomson’s adaptation. Rather than serving as a dramatic play, the script here seems like it is an overlong narration more suited to the radio than the stage. There was just so much talking and so little doing that it was nearly impossible to muster up an emotional connection to the story or characters. The stage literally lit up with excitement anytime something ‘happened’, but these moments were few and far between, and the grey set seemed to suck the fleeting life out of these moments once any ‘action’ began to falter. And you know you’re in trouble when an original scene involving two modern cops that bookend the production shows more creative inspiration and imagination than anything that happens in between.
Confessions of a Justified Sinner may be a classic, but it felt like a glimmering example of what Peter Brook calls ‘Deadly Theatre.’ While I can appreciate its historic importance to work that came afterwards, I left with the feeling that I was glad that I got to study the likes of Steinbeck, Dickinson and Fitzgerald instead of this relic.
Filed under: Edinburgh-based theatre productions |