‘I am alone,” says the narrator of Dostoevsky’s 1848 short story, a man who has had so little interaction with the world that he has no life story to tell. In a quest for connection, he paces the streets of St Petersburg, spotting familiar faces but remaining unrecognised. His isolation is existential; for all his dreams and desires, he has left no mark behind.
It is a bleak portrait – all the more so when layered with memories of our own lonely wanderings during lockdown – but one of the pleasures of Brian Ferguson’s masterly performance is its sprinkling of humour. This is a man so earnest in his need to be noticed that his desperation becomes funny. If you didn’t laugh you’d cry.
The one person he does meet, Nastenka, a young woman beholden to her oppressive grandmother, is equally single-minded in her desires. The two of them are driven by a melodramatic zeal, both unable to see their own ridiculousness. With Nastenka’s heart set on someone else, the narrator is Buttons to her Cinderella and this unrequited love only adds to the pathos.
In Elizabeth Newman’s spare, focused production in an amphitheatre where the Perthshire sky doubles for a starry St Petersburg night, Ferguson tackles both roles with total conviction. He plays them straight, without editorialising, making their collision seem all the more true – and all the more touching.
By the end of a lucid 75-minute performance, it has become less about loneliness and more about idealised notions of love, leaving us with just one brief glimpse of the real thing.