Brighton Fringe 2013
This hour-long “high-octane” mime-inspired/physical theatrical piece is performed by a quartet of actors on a minimalist, functional set.
Akaky Akakievich works as a 9th level copyist clerk in a St. Petersburg government office, and is mocked and belittled by his colleagues, not least for his coat that is “so threadbare it’s invisible.” But when he takes it to the local tailor for repairs he’s told it’s impossible and must buy a new one, which is beyond his means. His quest to save for enough for the new coat consumes him, believing that acquiring the correct attire will bring him promotion and standing in society, as he fantasies about meeting the Czarina.
Akakievich’s obsession sees him burying himself in his work and shunning the potentially blossoming romance with his kindly landlady, and it’s her undiscovered sacrifice for her unrequited love that holds the greatest emotional impact in this production. And indeed the scenes with these two characters worked the best. The clerk achives his ambition of owning a new coat and his life is seemingly turnaround, but this is Russian literature and there are no happy endings here. Yet when Akaky’s inevitable fall from grace and ultimate fate occurs, it lacks any real trauma or depth.
Three actors worked well together jumping from role to role, with the fourth providing occasional musical accompaniment on the guitar, and suitably grating sound effects when the clerk’s world begins to crumble.
The minimalist set of two metal grids and two calico stretched frames that made a box, was cleverly designed and used to good effect, standing in for at least five easily identifiable locations.
However, the young company would greatly benefit from remembering the old maxim “less is more” and if they toned down the gurning and shrieking and gave a more understated performance it would improve the production no end, and be more in keeping with the original text. There was a semi-farcical “cat hunt” that does not appear in the short story, which descends into very dark humour, but failed to and anything to the work. The mime was apparently taking its lead from Marcel Marceu’s 1951 adaptation and consequently felt a tad “old hat” and at a high level of GCSE drama students, but not much more.
That said, the audience were appreciative and what the acting lacks in nuance it makes up for in energy.