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Assembly Point Productions present


The Overcoat


by Nikolai Gogol


Adapted for the Stage by Howard Colyer


Directed & Produced by Eero Suojanen


Brockley Jack Studio Theatre


19 - 29 Jan 2010

 

 

 

 

 


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A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

The Overcoat has an almost talismanic quality for generations of writers and so has been adapted for stage and screen many times before. However, it was still difficult to imagine how such a peculiarly Russian story of grotesque humour, exuberant language and deep melancholy would be dramatised at the Brockley Jack in South London. In the event, Eero Suojanen has proved more than equal to the task, with an unforgettable production conjuring the alienating city of St Petersburg under the rigid hierarchy of Tsarist bureaucracy and it's unfortunate victim, the wretched Everyman - Bashmachkin (Chris Bearne).


The Brockley Jack is a big, comfortable pub with generous measures at the bar and the option of a fine dinner. This feeling of opulence and plenty was left behind on entering the tiny theatre. Here, the strange and frightening world of Akaky Akakievich (Poopy Poopson) Bashmachkin (Underfoot), the much put upon clerk who copies diligently night and day without complaint, is captured by the disconcerting set and costumes of Libby Todd, with a backdrop of filing cabinets that list perilously sideways and a series of four desks where the mind numbing work must take place day after day by order of the Lieutenant General (Colin Appleby). Together with unearthly lighting and chilling sounds of a howling wind and a barking dog provided by William Ingham, the feeling of leaving one reality and entering another, much less hospitable one was very powerful from the outset.


Much depended on the ability of Chris Bearne to bring Bashmachkin to life, skidding around the desks on his way to and from work with his pathetic 'dressing gown' of patches wrapped tightly around his frail form. Gogul does not mention a stutter, but Bearne's halting, gasping speech gave an impression of the distress social interaction inflicts on a quiet introvert, bullied at work by callow, younger clerks. When he is finally persuaded by his aging landlady to have a new overcoat made, it changes his life completely. People treat him with more respect and he begins to find a new purpose in life. However, when he is attacked after a party, and the coat stolen, incidents leading up to the conclusion making this production more obviously moral than the original.


The cast of eight mostly young, recently graduated actors were exceptionally good, although some of them had more authentic Russian accents than others. I am wholeheartedly in favour of bringing classics like this to the stage, except that it is so often done in a worthy but turgid fashion. The opposite is the case with this production. I could see that the audience surrounding the stage on three sides was completely absorbed in the action and left the play discussing the philosophical questions arising from the story with great enthusiasm.

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, Brockley, London SE4 2DH
Tues - Sat 8pm
Tickets: £10, £8 concs
Box Office: 0844 847 2454 
www.brockleyjack.co.uk

 

 

 

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