The Double – 4 stars

The White Bear Theatre, Kennington, London.

Kate McGregor, and her new company Theatre 6, have produced a real gem in this adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novella. A cast of eleven actors and musicians succeed in creating a stark, oppressive and nightmarish feel which suits the story perfectly.

Set in 1848, “right in the eye of the European Revolutionary storm”, it tells the tale of Golyadkin, whose average humdrum life is turned upside down by the arrival of The Double – a man who looks like him, sounds like him, takes his name and eventually, it seems, adopts his entire life. Whether this ‘double’ is a real person or little more than a hallucination of the protagonist’s is never clear in the original, but McGregor has made some definite decisions for her version which makes for an interesting and ominous ending. Her direction of the whole piece is assured, and keeps the pace cracking along nicely.

Ben Galpin plays the lead, Golyadkin, and does so very well indeed, carrying the narrative for around 90 minutes without an interval and not dropping the ball once. His comic ability and timing is a joy to watch, and in his darker more dramatic moments his performance is skillful and sustained.

Indeed, there is a wonderful ensemble feel amongst the whole cast, and they work extremely well together bringing out the comedy as well as the drama of the piece. Mention must go to Michael Linsey as Anton, Golyadkin’s friend, and Will Stoney gives a wonderfully understated performance as the doctor and the doorman. In particular, Freddie Machin as Golyadkin Junior is utterly mesmerising. His portrayal of the quiet voraciousness with which his character pursues Golyadkin is an expert display of stillness and focus. He is completely believable throughout in a role that, in less skilled hands, could have been hammy and cringeworthy.

Finally, Amy Cook’s design and Claire Childs’ lighting design also deserve mention. They transform this small black box space simply and to wonderful effect. And the live music from cello and violin provide an extra atmospheric depth.

This is first class fringe theatre, and Kate McGregor’s company is certainly one to watch.

(Review originally posted 31 March 2010)

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