By Sherlyn Goh Xue Ting
A modern take on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 19th century classic Crime and Punishment, Leakage(s) and Anticoagulants, presented by the graduating cohort of Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI), is an unflinching journey into the psyche of a young person who has just committed murder. Continuously ricocheting between guilt and self-righteousness, the protagonist Raskolnikov (Tan Weiying) grapples with the crime she initially got away with – stealing from and murdering an old pawnbroker.
The rational Raskolnikov posits that there are two types of people in the world: ordinary and extraordinary people. Believing she is of the latter, Raskolnikov considers herself above the law, with leeway to commit crimes for the greater good. In practice, however, she is laden with guilt, getting jittery at every mention of her crime. As she grows increasingly unstable and obsessed with her crime, she ends up sabotaging herself when she rouses the suspicions of the inspector Porfiri (Vanessa Wu) and court official Zamiotva (Mathilde Bagein).
As a semi-surrealist play, Leakage(s) and Anticoagulants does a great job at balancing both the realist, narrative scenes and the psychological explorations of Raskolnikov’s mind. A chorus of eight (Desmond Soh, Henrik Cheng, Regina Foo, Shirley Tan, Sonia Kwek, Teo Dawn, Uma Katju, Wong Yunjie) represents the inner workings of Raskolnikov’s psyche, sharing their doubts, manipulating and urging her on throughout the play. At times at odds with one another, the chorus reflects Raskolnikov’s inner conflict, as she is torn between confessing her crime and keeping silent while an innocent Mikolai (Saran Jith) is convicted in her place.
What struck me the most was the sheer physicality of the performance – director Alberto Ruiz Lopez has crafted riveting movement sequences that bring out the potential of his students, particularly the eight-actor chorus. As the chorus members interact with Raskolnikov and among themselves, their bodies work so seamlessly together and contort abnormally to form visually arresting tableaus – from stacking atop one another and clawing at one another’s heads, to manipulating Raskolnikov into various positions and carrying her across the stage. Their shaved heads also present a visceral, jarring image that heightens the unnaturality of not just their movements, but also their collective stage presence.
Of notable mention is Saran Jith’s skilfully creation of two paintings that illustrate the murder of the pawnbroker. In the first, Saran, playing the innocent painter, uses a long paint roller to outline the body of the pawnbroker, painting it on the wall of the second floor. His strokes are careful, controlled at first, before he haphazardly smears a messy blotch of paint when depicting the pawnbroker’s head. The second moment is what steals the show – Saran dips his bare hands into yellow and white paint, and with quick, decisive strokes, paints a horrifying face with hollow eyes and an opened mouth, resembling a skull, while the audience watches. The painting remains on stage throughout the rest of the performance, haunting Raskolnikov. At one point, the chorus tips the painting forward until it almost falls on her, a constant reminder of the weight of her guilt.
Working closely with the chorus is Weiying who smoothly straddles Raskolnikov’s confident, intellectual egoism, and her obsession and instability. From a silent character with no autonomy, pulled and pushed into various positions by the chorus initially, to one who later takes control of the stage and aggressively leads conversations with the other characters, Weiying holistically depicts the different sides of Raskolnikov, with all her varied, conflicting emotions.
Apart from Weiying, propelling the narrative forward is the main cast comprising Isabelle Low, Mathilde Bagein, Namaha Mazoomdar, Saran Jith and Vanessa Wu, who offer numerous moments of comic relief, lightening the mood of the performance, and balancing the intensity of the chorus.
While the performance felt a little draggy at times when characters launched into the occasional philosophical exposition, Leakage(s) and Anticoagulants on a whole is a biting psychological exploration of morality, conscience and guilt, which takes the audience deep into the recesses of one’s mind. And although Raskolnikov would like to think she’s extraordinary, by the end of the play, through the relatable performance of ITI’s graduating cohort, the audience comes to understand that she is as human, and as ordinary as any one of us, battling the same conflicting emotions that all of us, too, would experience when placed in her situation.
Photography credit: Bernie Ng