The Overcoat

Scandal and Gallows theatre company shines as a remarkably talented team in this production of The Overcoat by rising star scriptwriter George Johnston, who has imaginatively transformed Gogol's powerful everyman short story into a vibrant work of metatheatricality. Johnston has remained true to the setting and historical context of the original but has added contemporary nuances, not least in making the male clerk female.

Provides around an hour of intriguing, quirky and fascinating theatre

Akakiy Akakievitchna (Marta Vella) is devoted to her work as a clerk, even though she is usually ignored or ridiculed by her colleagues and grossly underpaid for her efforts. Her poverty is on daily display in the worn overcoat she wears to protect herself from the harsh winters of St Petersburg. Emboldened to have the coat repaired she visits her tailor, who says it is beyond saving: the only answer is a new coat that is hopelessly beyond her budget. Undeterred she subjects herself to a life of frugality. After much deprivation and aided by a surprise financial bonus the coat that has become her obsession is now finally within sight. Along with her tailor she picks the finest materials she can afford. The office is buzzing with excitement when she appears in her new outfit. Her boss even throws a party in honour of the new garment. Initially she is reluctant to attend but eventually concedes and stays till the early hours of the morning. On the way home a tragedy occurs and she finds herself helplessly caught up in the world of an uncaring and insensitive police force and judiciary. The simple tale becomes a tragedy, but one that is not without redemption.

The original story contains around eleven characters but Johnston has written for a cast of three. Marta Vella maintains the clerk's role throughout and sensitively conveys her inner world of loneliness, isolation and devotion to duty. As a bullied employee she seems incapable of defending herself, but Vella displays her inner strengths in later emotional scenes while never losing her basic vulnerability and weakness in the face of humiliation and injustice. Playing what is described as 'Chorus', Elizabeth Schenk and Guy Clark creatively take on the narration of this tale and assume the roles of the remaining characters. Their mostly light-hearted ebullience provides a stark contrast to the downtrodden existence of Akakiy. Their double-act gushes with energy and creativity, providing humour and momentum that keeps this production flowing from start to finish. On the way they assume the numerous roles the story demands, creating unmistakeable cameo characters.

The production is packed with ingenuity that reveals the close collaboration of all involved and the successful team construction of producer Emily Baycroft. Musical director and composer Stephen Gage has devised a score that from the outset establishes itself as finely aligned with the text and action. Similarly Emily Megson, the set and costume designer, has accomplished wonders with an array of outfits and props that enliven the story and in themselves become a source of fascination enhanced by the unobtrusively effective lighting and sound design by Johannes Ruckstuhl. Director John King unites all these elements in a triumphant production of delightful inventiveness and theatrical precision.

The Overcoat provides around an hour of intriguing, quirky and fascinating theatre, described by one person in the post performance discussion as "a simple show with a lot of heart". It transfers from the Clapham Omnibus to the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes in the coming week, where this young and vibrant company deserves to supported.

Reviews by Richard Beck


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The Blurb

Hilarious and brutal, this is a modern fairy tale about a woman who never asked for much in life, and didn’t even get that. Akakiy Akakievitch loved her job much more than it loved her. An underpaid, unnoticed administrative assistant in an under-funded, unimportant government department, she was barely scraping together enough to feed herself and stave off the ferocious St. Petersburg winters. But one day – no one quite remembers when – she set her sights on a higher aspiration than any in her life so far; a new overcoat…