Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Nikolai Gogol’s 19th century Russian short story tells of Akaky, a lowly copying clerk who works hard to save up and buy the overcoat he longs for, only to have it stolen the first time he wears it. Gecko put their own spin on the story, presenting the visual images it conjures in dazzling close-up with bells and whistles, making the coat a coveted prize that is suspended just out of reach and introducing a love interest whose heart Akaky imagines winning by impressing her with his fine new street wear.
From the moment the lights come up on a bearded white faced man playing a glockenspiel with silver thimbles on his fingers, one thing is clear and that is that it’s going to be a strange and mystical journey. Nothing much else is clear from that point on, in fact clarity is not this show’s strong point. For the next 75 minutes your eyes are assaulted by a stunning array of beautiful yet macabre images. Sung and spoken language (or rather languages) complement the movement and music but without enhancing understanding very much, unless you are multilingual, as only a few of the words are English. There is plenty to make you stare in wonder, make you smile and make you sit up and take notice but you can never be quite sure what exactly it is that you are seeing in this bizarre surreal world of chairs, ladders and invertible beds.
First there is what appears to be a wedding but it doesn’t seem to result in a marriage. After that, the action alternates between a vast multi-level office complex and Akaky’s tiny claustrophobic bedroom. The ingenious sets which are deftly wheeled in and out are supplemented by hand-held items, including a door and a two bar electric heater; their silent bearers bringing an eerily menacing quality to their presence.
As the action unfolds, it’s hard to be sure what really happens and what is conjured by the protagonist’s vivid imagination; difficult to distinguish between waking and sleeping, dreams and nightmares. It’s like dreaming you have woken and then dreaming you are telling someone about the dream you’ve just had, only to realise you are still dreaming. It’s all so mesmerising that you may even wonder if you have actually drifted into dreams of your own or whether you have died and gone to heaven or hell or are, in fact, oscillating between the two.
If you enjoy being taken on a mystery journey without knowing exactly where you are coming from, where you are going or what will happen if and when you ever arrive, this might be right up your street. However, for those who like their stories to have a beginning, a middle and an end (preferably in that order) and a discernible narrative, it may prove a tad frustrating.