Dostoyevsky’s Message of Love isn’t so Ridiculous – A Scarecrow Production
Jonathan Dunk and Travis Ash’s Dream of a Ridiculous Man began life in 1877 as a short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The pair has based their adaptation on Constance Garnett’s translation of the work. In her time Garnett was considered one of the most prominent translators of Russian literature and she is largely responsible for introducing English speaking audiences to the works of Tolstoy, Chekov, Turgenev and of course Dostoyevsky. Although her work is now becoming dated, for Dunk and Ash’s purposes the translation more than serves. It should also be noted that this adaptation is distinct from Murray Watts’ 1990 adaptation which was performed by Jeremy Irons for the BBC.
Travis Ash is our ridiculous man. The play is presented as a monologue as he, the unnamed narrator, tells the audience of his ridiculous nature. He tells us of his time spent in the study of science and the humanities. However, the more he learnt the more he came to realize that he was a ridiculous person. But what is it that makes him so ridiculous? His inability to care about anything in life: he sees everything as irrelevant. As such he resolves to commit suicide. Whilst contemplating this notion he falls asleep and has a dream. In this dream he is transported to a world identical to our own. Except in this world, the people live idyllically, free from hate, jealousy, lust and furthermore, have no way to even conceive of these concepts. However it isn’t possible for an imperfect being to exist in a perfect world. Inadvertently he teaches them to lie, and quickly this leads to jealousy, individualism, humanities, science and eventually war. The presence of knowledge supplants emotion, making way for misery and corruption. Despite this nightmarish descent, when he wakes he realizes that the potential to create a perfect world is within all of us. It isn’t in intellectualism; we must merely love each other as we love ourselves. He resolves to go on and preach this message of love. A simple message, but a message that is driven home by this production. The beauty of this production rests in its ability to convey the message without becoming bogged down in its own philosophy, making for very watchable and moving theatre.
Travis Ash is to be congratulated on a highly nuanced performance as the Narrator and self-confessed ridiculous man. The lyricism of Dostoyevsky floated out and continued to do so for the show’s entirety. Ash’s great talent as an actor comes from his superior vocal technique: audible, clear, and poetic. Moreover he thinks. Ash is constantly engaging with the lines and thinking through the thoughts. This is what turns good theatre into great theatre.
Significantly, Ash was able to hold the audience for a full hour. No small order. This was particularly impressive when one considers it was just Ash onstage with a lone violinist. Nevertheless, he used the stage to its fullest capacity (though the stage allows for very little). Jonathan Dunk must be congratulated here too, for preparing and executing a well thought out set of movements. The blocking seemed prepared for the space and did not detract from, (in fact added to) the story being told. A simple stool, flowers and a table was all the character needed – for he too is simple in his own way.
The violinist (Finn Keogh) in the corner was a wonderful choice. It brings to mind Fiddler on the Roof and often performed similar duties as a silent moral if not magical figure – almost certainly a nod to one of the main themes of divine experience. Keogh did a hard job well: he was unimposing and added an extra level of focus to Ash’s Narrator. A word must be said however with respect to the sound level. It is difficult to control, but sometimes it clashed with the dramatic tension, rather than adding to it.
Overall the piece was well designed, a level up from minimalist but not lavish to the point of pretention, far from it in fact. It is a tad indulgent from an acting perspective, but that is to be expected from an hour’s worth of monologue. For what it presents, it is a beautiful piece of well-crafted theatre, with thoughtful choices all around, but especially from Mr Dunk’s direction and Mr Ash’s soft approach to the character.
Dream of a Ridiculous Man is playing at the Tap Gallery Darlinghurst until the 1st of June. For further details and bookings see: