NEIL COOPER meets the man bringing a new version of Dostoyevsky's classic to Scotland

Chris Hannan was 21 when he first read Crime And Punishment, Dostoyevsky's bleak tale of one man's descent

into murder and madness before having a spiritual reawakening.

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Then, Hannan was an undoubtedly serious young man lurking around the Penguin Classics section in bookshops as he devoured the entire Dostoyevsky canon alongside other Russian masters.

More than three decades on, Hannan has adapted Crime And Punishment for the stage in a major new production that opens at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, next week.

"It's a strange time when you're 21," Hannan says of his mind-set when he first read the book. "You've got all that paranoia. Sometimes you have this exalted view of things, and you have all this enjoyment of the seamier side of things, so that was perfect for Crime And Punishment.

"I have probably read the bookit about seven times since the first time I read it, and it is something I utterly love. It is hard to explain the effect it had on me that first time, but it had a very strange effect, and I suppose it made me feel at home. I thought at the time I had never seen anyone write about what felt like my family."

Perhaps Hannan is identifying with Raskolnikov, the penniless St Petersburg ex-student whose mental and moral anguish forms the book's heart as he attempts to justify killing an unscrupulous pawnbroker for some higher purpose, as well as his own survival. If so, he may also be thinking of Marmaledov, the father of Raskolnikov's love interest, Sonya.

"He was the best drunk character I had ever read," says Hannan.

One of the great things about Crime And Punishment, which was originally serialised over 12 parts in monthly journal The Russian Messenger throughout 1866, is that, while it deals with big existential ideas, it is a hugely accessible piece of genre fiction.

"It's a crime thriller and a whodunnit meets Karl Marx and Jesus Christ. That's what makes it possible to adapt it. It lends itself to having a beginning,

a middle and an end, and that is what makes it properly do-able." Even so, putting a 500 page novel onto a stage with every nuance intact was never going to be easy.

"It feels like in the book Raskolnikov is in dialogue with bothhimself and the whole of society," Hannan points out. "He is always anticipating what the response might be to what he is saying even as he is saying it.

So you need to find some way of translating that to the stage. That is the difficulty, and that

is the challenge of the thing, but you have already got this different context with the audience who in a way are society, so you can enter a dialogue with them.

"There is also something about the intensity of the characters that makes it possible to adapt. They are all in perpetual crisis, and what is good theatrically is that they are in crisis with who they are. They are constantly trying to make themselves up. I think as well that Dostoyevsky was a very theatrical writer. He loved theatre, and he was a big fan of Schiller, and he wrote in scenes. The only other writer I can think of who is as theatrical is Jane Austen."

This co-production of Crime And Punishment not only pools the resources of the Citizens, Liverpool Playhouse and the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.

It also reunites the creative team that worked on Hannan's last major work to be seen in Scotland, The Three Musketeers And The Princess Of Spain. This includes director and artistic director of the Citz, Dominic Hill, as well as designer Colin Richmond.

"I think it was me who first suggested doing it to Dominic," says Hannan, "and it is quite hard to explain why I thought it might be a good idea to do it, other than the fact that I have loved it so long."

Clydebank-born Hannan's career as a writer began in 1982 with Screw The Bobbin, an agit-prop play for 7:84. His interest in Russian literature came through in his 1984 piece for the Traverse, Klimkov: Life Of A Tsarist Agent, and in a 1987 version of Gogol's play, Gamblers. Other plays for the Traverse have included Elizabeth Gordon Quinn and Shining Souls, while Hannan's own novel, Missy, was published in 2008 in between penning plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company and others.

Crime And Punishment, however, should prove epic in every way. Coming so long after the 21-year-old Hannan first delved into Dostoyevsky's dark pages, one wonders how the mature Hannan might make the story relevant for the serious young men and women of 21st century Scotland and Liverpool.

"You could put various spins on the story," Hannan suggests. "In some ways Raskolnikov is like a terrorist, in that he is taking a life for an ideological purpose, which is to see if he can do it, but I would not want to push that idea to far.

"I think the story's real contemporary relevance is about what is the value of life. That

is what it is exploring. It also explores someone who separates himself from the rest of society, and how on earth he is going to rejoin that society. So it is about our relationship with society.

"It's a thrilling story, but also an emotionally thrilling oneas well. It is not an abstract novel. Dostoyevsky's been there, done that."

Warming to his theme, Hannan continues: "He didn't murder someone, but he was part of a revolutionary group that plotted murder. Then he goes to Siberia for his crime, and mixes with murderers, and I think he really did pour all that into Crime And Punishment.

"People imagine Dostoyevsky to be all doom and gloom, and pointless doom and gloom, with him having gone through some fairly grim experiences, but the moment of enlightenment at the end of Crime And Punishment, that is part of Dostoyevsky's journey as well, moving from darkness into light.

"He emerges …" Hannan pauses a moment, and then starts laughing. "I'm trying to avoid the phrase 'with a positive outlook'," he says, sounding like his 21-year- old self is not that far away after all.

Crime And Punishment, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, September 5-28; Liverpool Playhouse, October 1-19; Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, October 22-November 9

www.citz.co.uk

www.everymanplayhouse.com

www.lyceum.org.uk