I was blown away by this wonderful show.
Based on the short story of the same name by the Russian writer Gogol, The Overcoat centres on a minor civil servant working in the government offices in mid-nineteenth century St Petersburg, Russia’s pre-revolutionary capital.
Akaky Akakiewich Bashmatchkin is proud of his work as a copyist – so much so that he is able to ignore the ceaseless mockery of his younger colleagues. One focus of the mockery is his coat – a bedraggled, much-patched piece of apparel. A very poor man, Akaky hopes to get the coat repaired. He can afford 2 or 3 roubles… no more. But Petrovich, the tailor, persuades him that he really needs a new coat - for much, much more than 3 roubles.
Akaky’s life away from work then revolves around saving the money to buy his coat, hugely helped by a large cheque, which is a reward for his devotion and diligence – or, as likely, a slip of a pen by an incompetent clerk.
On his return to work Akaky’s new coat is admired by one and all – and the boss arranges a party to celebrate it. But Akaky feels uncomfortable at the party and on the long, late, dark trek home across the city he is beaten up and the coat is stolen from him….
Will Males played Akaky with great maturity and understanding. In one sense it is the starring role; it is central but only in the sense that his is a character very much the subject of the actions of others. Shuffling, uneasy with others, only really happy when writing at his desk – Will carried out this almost non-speaking role to perfection.
Grigory Petrovich, the tailor, was played with shabby flamboyance by Alan Wilson. I especially enjoyed the performance of Holly Masters as his wife – I loved the way that the price of Akaky’s coat (too low or too high) was decided according to Mrs Petrovich’s mood, each time followed by the condemnatory exclamation, ‘Men!’.
Will Norland, like the rest of the cast surrounding Akaky, played a number of roles but was wonderful as the Very Important Person – totally full of himself with a booming voice, only to be transformed very comically later into someone begging a pardon for the way he treats Akaky’s appeal seeking his help after the theft of his coat.
But this was really an ensemble piece with Will Norland, Holly and Alan joining with Joe Dickens, Alex Elford, Gabi Fletcher, Jess Hicks, Sophie McMahon, Ben Rowland and Rob Slater to form a wonderfully talented chorus.
Their acting and singing was of a very high standard, especially bearing in mind that the music was at times very challenging – I have no doubt that a lesser ensemble could have made an awful mess of it! And so much movement to remember and execute! Another challenge that was met with great energy and skill by this cast of young people aged between 16 to 21.
One small example of this was the scene in which Akaky is robbed of his coat and beaten up by thugs. Stage fighting is often poorly/half-heartedly done by amateurs but this scene alone would have not been out of place on the professional stage.
And, dare I say, that is true for the whole show. (Be assured - that is something I studiously avoid saying about amateur theatre.)
Huge congratulations are due to writer Geoff Page, who has managed to write a highly entertaining and intelligent show, funny, sad and thoughtful, which stays true to the word and the spirit of Gogol’s story, and deserves a much wider audience than this three-night run.
I cannot imagine how hard Lesley Ford, Geoff Page and especially Sophie McMahon (Choreography) and the rest of the production team worked to get this show to such a high standard – well done all.