The Overcoat – Brockley Jack Studio

Despite living two minutes away for over a decade, it was only late last year that I first went to the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, blush. This was the second visit. The run had sold out, so an extra performance was added on the last day…

The Nikolai Gogol short story The Overcoat is adapted from is a classic of Russian literature. Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, an aging clerk copying endless documents in some St Petersburg government department, is bullied because of his threadbare coat. The tailor refuses to patch it again so, with the help of a bonus, a brand new coat is ordered. When he's dressed in the replacement, everyone treats Akaky very differently.. until it is stolen after a party for him (or was the party for the coat?) leading to his death.

Chris Bearne as the hero does both the bullied and newly confident Akaky very well within the limitations of the production, but those are substantial. A story about the way people are judged by their possessions and their jobs has stayed relevant for over a century, but this is largely missed, with too much of it set 'pre coat'. It does feel nicely Russian though.

Akaky's return as a ghost is also miswritten. The original story ends with the ghost visiting, and terrifying, a high ranking official who had refused to help recover the coat (and also had enjoyed terrifying the office Akaky worked in). The ghost leaves with the official's coat and is never seen again. Instead a second ghost starts haunting the city, looking like one of the people who had stolen Akaky's coat.

Here, Akaky's ghost turns up, smokes – productions should post 'contains smoking' warnings, especially in small spaces like this – and makes the lights go out. The end. Hmmm. Given the pace of the script, it was more of a relief than a fright.

Another oddity is that it was advertised as being 75 minutes long, but despite starting eight minutes late, it still finished 'on time'. Did something get cut? If so, it was the wrong bits.


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