Idiots starts with a bit of audience interaction*. The sort of audience interaction that leaves those on the front row and aisle seats avoiding eye contact and shrinking into their seats while those sat safely in the middle rows smugly laugh on.
I'd like to say that that is the least comfortable moment in this part adaptation** of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot and part fantasy biopic of the writer's life but it isn't. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of silliness as you'd expect from a dead central character who is living in a flat below Mr Blobby and his Thai wife. However Will Cowell and Jonnie Bayfield's play also has a dark underbelly, from the flashes of Dostoevsky's life to the scenes from The Idiot where they brutally expose what Dostoevsky only hints at in the 19th century novel.
Dostoevsky was concerned with the human state, psychology and extreme behaviour and in some ways Idiots reflects that. The dead writer of the play has his life put under the spotlight by a bureaucrat who exposes the tragedy, vanity and cruelty. It questions whether you can make allowances for bad or immoral behaviour because of fame and talent.
Meanwhile in The Idiot the gentle intellect of Prince Mishkin is misinterpreted as stupidity and he is pushed aside by a violent bore Rogozhin who tyrannises the object of his affection Nastasya Fillipovna.
It is an interesting show and one which approaches narrative in a variety of different styles that on paper shouldn't work but just about do. During it's 60 minutes running time it made me laugh, it made me uncomfortable and it made me a little emotional and that is pretty good going. I'm giving it four stars and you can see it upstairs at the Soho Theatre until Saturday April 2.
* 'Dostoevsky' at one point asked the audience to raise their hand if they'd read any of his works and no one did. I'm raising my hand now from the safety of my own sofa to say I've read The Idiot.
**There is a big ('half our budget') sign hanging at the back of the stage which lights periodically and says 'This is not an adaptation'.