White Nights – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Written by Fyor Dostoevsky

Adapted and Directed by Elizabeth Newman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

To many, the prospect of departing without leaving a mark is their greatest fear, to live a life which has had little to no significant impact. And at the very least there are those of us who have strived for a dream — irrespective of if we achieve this or not. But the prospect of living a life with no dream, with no aspirations and finding oneself truly alone, conjures a depth of emotional turmoil otherwise unthought of, except by the tremendous mind of Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Pacing the routine streets, the previous year has driven the monotony of endless walks over familiar streets is a sensation we’ve grown accustomed too. Recognisable, as Dostoevsky’s lead wanders the streets of St. Petersburg the faces of those chance encounters warp into an unrecognisable feast to drive a sense of fantasy. In the slowly twinkling twilight of the Pitlochry Amphitheatre, the ethereal nature of Dostoevsky’s short story White Nights is adapted to bring it’s profound understanding of the complexities of loneliness and despondent humour to fresh fans and fanatics alike.

The intensity of Brian Ferguson’s visual connection with the audience at first is intimidating, a true marker of exceptional theatre, but slowly the closeness and removal of barriers between the audience and the liveness of the show reminds us that irrespective of the quality of digital and streaming theatre, nothing will match the power of matching eyes with a live performer.

And fear not the urge to laugh, there’s reason in Ferguson’s exceptional capability to draw a man so deep into a despair in his sincere need to be noticed, that it blossoms into humour. In the ravenous pursuit of a connection with someone, anyone, Dostoevsky’s short story turns misery into laughs citing the old proverb that if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. Unabridged, Ferguson refrains from dissecting the text and takes the role to heart, evoking a truth with a conviction which offers an ease of access for the complex story.

And though largely in the capable hands of Ferguson, adaptor Elizabeth Newman’s division of sparsity aids greatly. Limited, the distractions of staging or set piece mean that the priority is focused on the writing and Ferguson’s performance take the central focus. The understanding in the necessity to hone the audiences’ attention into their mind scape is a master-stroke, to the extent that the only other ‘character’, Nastenka, a young woman under the ever-present monitor of her elderly is fully-realised without any physical presence at all. A woman with her own desires, mentality and independence, the pair form an alliance of sorts fuelled by their zealous interests, unaware of the circus their creating. Ferguson grasps the opportunity to conjure Nastenka into reality, projecting the two characters from his own physical form. At times, it becomes entrancing to witness as the ‘pair’ bicker, Ferguson launching between the two roles effortlessly.

Though perhaps a touch too lurid in moments, catapulting the aspect of unrequited affection to the forefront as the existential world of dreamscapes and isolation take a backseat, Newman still channels the weight of the original short story into the new adaptation. Challenging, Dostoevsky’s juggernaut status and ability can seem daunting given the abstract nature, but the conviction Ferguson exudes strengthens the production, greatly enabled by Newman’s freedom into something hypnotic, if disheartening.

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