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'Crime And Punishment: A Rock Musical': Dostoyevsky Meets Punk Princess Toyah Willcox

Picture of Harriet Clugston
Updated: 27 August 2016
What do you get when you mix the music of 80s punk princess Toyah Willcox with the writing of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky? Crime and Punishment: A Rock Musical, of course. As part of London’s Open Air Theatre Season, The Scoop amphitheatre will be hosting the world premiere of this unlikely production, using the raw energy and passion of rock music to introduce new audiences to one of the world’s most important literary works.

Since 2005, the award-winning Gods and Monsters Theatre, The Scoop’s resident company, have been bringing together Londoners of all class and creed with an exciting programme of free, open air theatre as part of More London’s five-month-long London Bridge City Summer Festival. Each year, 40,000 free tickets are up for grabs in the sunken stone amphitheatre, which lies in the shadow of City Hall and Tower Bridge, with productions ranging from exciting musicals to Greek classics to adaptations of contemporary literature.

Image courtesy of More London
Image courtesy of More London

This year comes perhaps the most unusual yet, a musical adaption of Crime and Punishment, the most famous of Dostoyevsky’s major works. Published in 1866, Crime and Punishment is a tortuous, delirious, and vivid journey into the psyche of a criminal, Rodion Raskolnikov, as he tests his personal philosophical theories and grapples with moral dilemmas. An impoverished student, Raskolnikov plans and executes the murder of a disreputable pawnbroker; distinctly nihilistic in his thinking, Raskolnikov attempts to justify the act by reasoning that he has rid the world of an evil. However, the resoluteness of his reasoning begins to break down as he is tormented by the guilt he did not expect to feel, with the novel toying with themes of alienation, nihilism, and utilitarianism as it asks us to consider whether or not murder can ever be justified.

Phil Willmott, Artistic Director of Gods and Monsters, has sought to adapt the profound tale into a youthful medium, opening up the text to a new generation who may not be familiar with it. Toyah Willcox — who Willmott describes as ‘the punk princess’, a figure who glamourised and dramatised punk rock in the 80s — has enjoyed a song-writing career spanning 30 years, racking up eight Top 40 singles and working on over 20 albums. Along with her prestigious song-writing partner Simon Darlow, she has produced a collection of specially written songs for Crime and Punishment: A Rock Musical (which will also feature favourite tracks by Willcox herself) that, according to Willmott, ‘perfectly match the raw, urgent energy of Dostoyevsky’s characters and message’.

'Oedipus' at The Scoop 2013|Courtesy of More London
‘Oedipus’ at The Scoop 2013 | Courtesy of More London

The Scoop entertains an audience with the youngest average age of any theater in London, and its free productions are accessible to audiences that may not be regular theatregoers. Crime and Punishment, being a novel that speaks to student anger, angst, and idealism, Willmott maintains that rock music, as a ‘language for anger and alienation’, lends itself perfectly to a contemporary youth-orientated adaption, with a soundtrack brimming with energy and passion able to concisely substitute for lengthy chapters that delve into the protagonist’s state of mind, exploring the palpable thematic anguish, tribulation, and rebellion.

In addition to a desire to introduce a young audience to Russian literature, Gods and Monsters’ turn towards the east of the Eurasian continent has another dimension to it, intended to mark ‘the increasingly important role Russia plays in London’s economy and the way our work, social, and cultural life is enriched by a strong Eastern European presence in our capital’. The show will be preceded each night by The Wawel Dragon, a family friendly production bringing to life one of Poland’s most enduring and iconic myths, which aims to celebrate the European community within London in response to the rise of post-Brexit racism.

Crime & Punishment: A Rock Musical will be playing at 8pm Wednesday to Sunday, from Wednesday 31st August – Sunday 25th September. The Wawel Dragon begins at 6pm.

The Scoop, Queen’s Walk, More London, London SE1 2DB, +44 207 403 4866