Opening Night – 5th July 2017
“A very interesting adaptation superbly acted”
Nikolai Gogol’s satire Dead Souls, in which a civil servant attempts to get rich quick by buying up the rights to recently deceased serfs in order to appear wealthy, has been adapted by Monkhead Theatre which aims to bring ‘the wild rock and roll playfulness of experimental multimedia theatre’ to the Russian classic.
And they have done so successfully. ‘The Machine’, a microphone dangling above a vibrating cymbal which sits centre stage, provides a low-pitch hum throughout the drama to symbolise the ‘impalpable sound’ of the dead serfs who haunt the background of the characters petty, unfeeling, bureaucratic arguments. Video projection is also used, filming the actors as they perform in the pub downstairs. If you enjoy the humour of unaware audience participation, you’ll enjoy these sections. If, like me, you find it a bit cringy, then it can feel laboured. That is not the fault of the acting however: Joshua Jacob (Chichikov and The Minister), Jules Armana (The Prosecutor, Sobkievitch and Plyushkin) and Toby Osmond (Manilov and Nozdryov) are all superb.
Chloe Myerson’s adaptation condenses Gogol’s circuitous novel into a taut hour and thirty minutes. Such a streamlining necessarily means that some of the author’s themes are given more prominence: in this, it is the theme of class. Chichikov is marked by his lower social status and it is here that the costuming comes into its own. Just the shoes of the characters are able to denote their ranking: Chichikov’s are a bashed about pair of slip-ons, whereas the wealthy landowner Nozdryov’s are a shining black leather.
Fortunately, something that is not lost in the adaption is Gogol’s wry humour. It is particularly apparent in Toby Osmond’s brilliant dual portrayals of the gauche Manilov and the boorish Nozdryov, and also in the sardonic descriptions that appear on the projection.
All in all, a very interesting production. If things get a little over-heated at the end (and it was very warm in the small space), that does not dampen the sharpness of this drama.
Reviewed by Alice Gray
is at Theatre N16 until 8th July