Crime & Punishment: A Rock Musical
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Toyah Wilco's musical adaptation of Dostoyevsky's classic is far better than it has any right to be
A rock musical based on Dostoyevsky’s nineteenth century novel, with songs by ’80s popstar Toyah Willcox? Sneer all you like – it isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Playing in a double bill with kids’ show ‘The Wawel Dragon’ at The Scoop – the free open air theatre by Tower Bridge – the musical looks at some entitled Russian prick who kills an old moneylender because he thinks it’s justified (that’s the ‘crime’ bit). Then he’s persuaded by his guilt and his girlfriend to come clean (the punishment bit comes later).
Nineties kids might remember Willcox as ‘Barmy Aunt Boomerang’ on CBBC, but she had a big career in the late ’70s and ’80s with hits like ‘It’s A Mystery’ and ‘I Want To Be Free’. All her old tunes make an appearance, with some new songs too. They’re fun, but tend to interrupt the rather arch, overwrought Russian melodrama and its philosophical inserts about moral superiority, rather than complementing or enlightening it.
The adaptation by Phil Willmott (who also directs and acts in the show) has its merits and although it’s a brisk 90 minutes it feels pacy rather than rushed. All the necessary beats, from heinous act through falling in love and eventual contrition, find their moment and there are some semi-decent bits of acting in there too.
Nineteenth-century Russians always seem to be rising up against the bourgeoisie or dying of consumption. Adding a rock musical soundtrack makes it all a bit more palatable really. And Willmott’s worked out what fares well in the open air space: in this big concrete concourse, surrounded by the tallest and greyest buildings in London, it’s got to be huge or the environs would swallow it up.
Playing out on Phillip Eddolls’s serviceable set, a Russian skyline in miniature capped with onion domes, it’s brash and it’s silly. Although a bit like polished karaoke at moments, it’s easy to get past the ridiculous premise to find some good singing, and a dash of moral complexity to boot.