The Fatal Eggs
Barons Court Theatre
Reviewed – 11th April 2019
“Douglas Baker’s adaptation illuminates and derides at the same time with a wild sense of invention, fun and some beautifully designed projections”
When Persikov, a zoologist, accidentally discovers evidence of a ‘life ray’ that accelerates growth in amoebas, the state and media pounce on its implications for productivity, technological mastery and beyond. Before the baffled boffin can comprehend his own work, government scientists commandeer his ray to replenish state chicken supplies following a poultry plague. Anxious of the consequences, Persikov orders snake eggs for further experiments but, inevitably, reptilian and avian ova go to the wrong addresses and proliferating snakes threaten to engulf the city.
If Mikhail Bulgakov’s science fiction satire ever becomes a set text, students can save themselves swotting by attending this multimedia and movement piece by So It Goes Theatre. With dazzling lightness of touch it communicates not only the tale itself but also the writer’s struggles with authority, his writing style, the troubled gestation of the novel itself, plus a good deal of the 1920s context including the objects of the work’s satire – the Bolshevik state’s obsession with technology and the infantilising role of the media. Douglas Baker’s adaptation illuminates and derides at the same time with a wild sense of invention, fun and some beautifully designed projections.
Although published in 1924, when threats from powerful new technologies were top of mind, no effort is needed to make the subject relevant to today. Thankfully, none is made; Douglas Baker’s direction revels in clunky Soviet lab equipment, clothing and the use of archaic maps and scientific illustrations in the animations (provided by Baker himself). The lush audio-visual treatment combines well with movement sequences (Matthew Coulton), most notably where Bulgakov hammers out his provocative masterpiece alongside his creation, Persikov, working at his microscope. It’s an artful sequence that shows how, for some, the consequences of artistic expression can be as dangerous as technological discovery.
Alex Chard is a distinguished Bulgakov, capturing with angsty conviction the author in the midst of creation. In a simple but effective portrayal, Lucie Regan imbues Persikov with the bland bewilderment of a scientist encountering the real world. Alongside them, Ben Howarth and Fiona Kelly are able and engaging as they fill in the other characters and narrate. Together, they form a disparate quartet of styles that interlock serious and comic, period and modern, biography and fiction, science and art, hilarity and horror. Add in vivid moments of sound design from Richard Kerry and you have a mock-earnest parable on the perils of progress, luminously adapted, elaborately performed and enjoyable on each if its many layers.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Carl Fletcher
The Fatal Eggs
Barons Court Theatre until 27th April
Previously reviewed at this venue: