IDIOTS at the BT Studio, Oxford


Anyone who has read one of my reviews before will be familiar with my loathing of anything containing audience participation. Nothing turns me against a play quicker than a spotlight shining into the audience, and a ‘how are we all doing this evening, Oxford?’. Things weren’t promising for this evening’s production of Idiots, written and performed by Caligula’s Alibi, as the actors trooped on stage and started high-fiving people along the front row. I shrank desperately back into my seat, trying to make myself invisible, a mantle which I carefully maintained for the entire play – exhausting, and not particularly conducive to enjoyment of a Friday evening theatre trip. I’ve never actually met an adult who does like audience participation, so it does beg the question, why does contemporary theatre employ it so frequently? Hmm, perhaps a question for another day.

Anyway, despite my discomfort over the whole audience participation issue, I did find myself chuckling along with the play, as it progressed. The premise of Idiots is a funny one – Fyodor Dostoyevsky is living in a sort of purgatory, trying to justify to a character known as The Bureaucrat the fact that he is continuing to claim benefits 130 years after his death. The dialogue is witty, and Jonnie Bayfield’s delivery is sharp in the role of Dostoyevsky/Myshkin. The social satire can be a bit heavy-handed in places (several references to Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP in an hour-long play), but as Dostoyevsky reveals more and more of his flawed, sick character to The Bureaucrat, the audience catches a real glimpse into the mind of someone who can’t bring themselves to love someone unless that person is somehow unattainable.

The play draws intriguing parallels between Dostoyevsky’s life and that of Myshkin, the main character in his semi-autobiographical novel, The Idiot. We’re aware that ‘THIS IS NOT AN ADAPTATION’, but it seems hard to disentangle what we know about Dostoyevsky from his tortured alter-ego, in love with the fiancée of his friend, and crippled with his own self-doubt.

To my mind, the most interesting parts of the play happened when the action wasn’t relying on gimmicks. The passages of dialogue or monologue were satisfyingly clever and often acerbic critiques of the audience, but I thought there were too many experimental elements to make this a truly enjoyable experience.     ★★☆☆☆   @BookingAround    16th April 2016