Where: Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, Brockley, London SE4 2DH
£: 10 (8 concessions)
What is it?
The Overcoat is a play adapted by Howard Colyer from the short story by Nikolai Gogol. The play begins with the sound of the wind howling followed by Vasilkov (Peter Saracen), the head clerk, addressing the audience directly. “Departments! Regiments! Offices! Everybody is sitting and waiting to take offence. And a personal slight is taken as an attack on society.” The setting is simple but effective with four identical desks set out in two neat rows. In this cosy little theatre it sets the scene and brings us right into the middle of the story.
Bashmachkin’s (Chris Bearne) shuffling around the stage perfectly captures his poor and downtrodden nature and his overly-patched worn-out coat acts as a symbol of his status in society. He is even picked on by his fellow junior clerks. The name Bashmachkin itself is said to come from meaning under the thumb. Winter is closing in and Bashmachkin finally gets a new coat made for him. Bearne captures his sense of pride and feeling of having bettered himself by striding confidently around the stage; a nice little touch. To celebrate the new overcoat the office clerks go out for drinks. The ladies present seem unusually interested in Bashmachkin and his coat, and proceed to parade around in it. They do this to the sound of Gogol Bordello’s Start Wearing Purple, which brought a smirk to my face. I wasn’t really expecting the music to be by the modern ‘gypsy punk’ band! The celebratory evening ends with poor Bashmachkin losing his coat to thieves and the police only turn their back on the helpless soul. He returns to shuffling around in his old coat, his confidence gone again.
Although some of the elements from the short story are skipped over in the play, the orginal comment on class and society that the story has comes through clearly and is well acted by the small cast. The theatre itself is situated in the Brockley Jack pub and is easily accessed by train and bus. The pub sells decent, well-priced food too, so why not pop in for a meal and then watch this interesting adaptation of a Russian masterpiece?
More info: Brockley Jack