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The Overcoat
Published on Wednesday, 19 August 2009

I remember, in my late teens, finding a beautiful, long, flouncy red skirt in a tiny side-street boutique. If I had it, I would become more vivacious, more popular and Hamish would obviously like me. Unfortunately, when trying to do some creative budgeting - my parents were paying for my university education at the time - I mentioned the said skirt to my mother. She immediately, quite rightly and, may I add, in no uncertain terms, said that if she couldn’t afford a skirt that price, there was no way I could either.

Needless to say neither of us got a skirt - and I saved my parents' money. Akaky, on the other hand, has his eye on a beautiful coat… and unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have my mother.

Inspired by Gogol’s short story of the same name, The Overcoat is a cautionary tale against greed for anyone naïve enough to think that an item of clothing will actually change their world. Akaky lives a small life in a cramped apartment, is unsuccessful in his job, and to top it off is excluded from Friday night drinks because of his awful coat. He loves Natalia – if only he had that coat.

Cautionary it may be, but it’s a striking world that Gecko creates. Siberian winds blow outside a stunning 1940s industrial workplace, complete with alleys and corridors and antiquated processes. Most delightful of all is Akaky’s cramped lodgings, so small the neighbours can hear every word, with parents who disapprovingly peer from their photo perched on the wall. Striking too are the images of an eerie world of devils dressed as tailors working from mobile shops ,and those of Akaky walking up walls and corporate ladders.

Lust is boisterously present in this world - as is temptation, desire and love. There’s always a devil sitting on your shoulder as you dream of social inclusion and of love. Underneath it all are basic human desires; in The Overcoat Akaky’s desires have been thwarted, and for him the coat is the key to his own social change.

The Overcoat is performed in a variety of languages; it lends a full and varied soundscape to the production, but at times it’s hard to pick up on the detail. However, the characterisation and humour transcend translation, and this fine ensemble seamlessly fashion a world full of joy and sorrow with a vibrant, masterly touch.

As I walked up St Mary’s Street after the show, I saw a woman wearing a beautiful coat. If only…

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