Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Overcoat - Lyric Hammersmith

The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol
Created by Gecko
Director: Amit Lahav
Reviewer: John Roberts

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, exiting artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith David Farr approached Gecko to create a new piece of theatre based on Gogol's The Overcoat. This would be a new venture for Gecko, who not only are used to presenting small scale studio productions, but who have also never adapted anything before...but director Amit Lahav saw all the quintessential elements that have been present in past Gecko productions and took a stab in creating a new production.

Akakki is a lonely person, living in a doldrum existence of office work and paying his rent and his sexual fixation (or is this just a desire of wanting to be loved) of his female work colleague. It's only when his desire for a new overcoat takes over, do we see a new and emotional Akakki...but what he fails to see is that sometimes chasing who we are not by pretending to be someone we aren't is when things can turn out worse that what we first imagined it to be like.

Director Amit Lahav working closely with his designer Ti Green, lighting designer James Francombe and musical composer Dave Price have created a theatrical world that is not only rich in melancholy and macabre but also of innate beauty and peace. Green's creative monochromatic set helps realise Akakki's faded and depressed world, whilst Francombe's lighting really plays games with the images we see in the shadows (whether real or in our minds eye!) and has produced some of the most stunningly lit scenes I have ever seen. Price’s music really connects on a visceral level, at times the magnitude of his compositions really effecting how you feel both physically and emotionally throughout the piece.

Lahav and the company have devised some stunning scenes and choreography; the making of Akakki’s bedroom, the sinking through the bed to the land beyond sleep and the pure menace of the opening minute will visually stay with me for a long time.

Gecko’s ability to produce a show where virtually no English is spoken and still be able to keep your audience’s attention is no mean feat and on the whole this is one of this productions strongest suits...but unfortunately for this reviewer far too much time was taken up to the moment of Akakki taking the overcoat, and this makes his downward spiral happen and end all too quickly, something which a sharp ten minute cut (the production is 70 minutes) could fix quite nicely. The audience would still feel they have seen something truly unique as you really do get so much for you money.

Not only does Lahav direct but he also places himself in the lead role of Akakki and does so with a real physical presence and depth of emotion, but it is Natalie Ayton who shines bright in this dark production and gives the character of Akakki a warm and rounded character to really fall for...I don’t think it was just Akakki who fell for her charm, I have a feeling she won the hearts of many of audience in tonight’s performance

This is a fantastic production and although a lot darker than I was expecting, it really does pack a punch and will leave you with images that will never leave your theatrical memories.

The Overcoat runs at the Lyric Hammersmith until Sat 11th April 2009
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