Established as a first-class fringe venue over the last four years, The Print Room has now moved from Hereford Road to the former Coronet Cinema. The potential to transform this Notting Hill icon is exciting and the theatre is off to a stunning start with Notes From Underground.
Arriving from Paris, this adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s work by all-round clever fellow Gérald Garutti, collaborating with the show’s performer Harry Lloyd, is a fantastic piece. Taking the dense text and making it feel naturally performable is a huge achievement: the intellectual rigour of the Russian master is retained and a piece of superb theatre created.
Garutti and Lloyd have worked hard to create an immediacy, which, in this intimate space, becomes almost intimidating. Lloyd greets the audience as they arrive: we are the “ladies and gentlemen” he addresses throughout. And there is no historic distance here – we are in the now: the office life he has abandoned, which made him “a slave and a coward” is our very own nine to five.
The anti-hero of the work is a recluse, living in a “hole” and “over-philosophising” about existence. Retelling the events of a dinner party and an experience with a prostitute, the underground he talks about isn’t just the underbelly of society but the underpinnings of the human mind. The “higher consciousness” he claims to possess isn’t exactly appealing – it would be easy to see posturing and pretension – but Lloyd brings out the humanity behind the anguished ruminating, making sure we aren’t alienated from the ideas and share their “sting”.
This is no easy monologue. Dostoyevsky’s philosophy is radical: a rejection of reason pushes his character to madness, and the masochism embraced is particularly hard to swallow. But the ideas are presented elegantly, forensically followed through and create a remarkable rhythm. We are warned, “You’re not going to like this”, but this assessment is a long way off the truth.
Until 1 November 2014
Photo by Mirco Cosimo Maglioca
Written 12 October 2014 for The London Magazine