The Overcoat at New Cross’ small, subterranean theatre is situated at
one remove from Gogol’s original story about a dreary office worker who
rises briefly to prestige thanks to a handsome overcoat that he buys only
to lose the overcoat and with it his life. The company aims to bring
Buster Keaton’s 1954-5 McCarthy era film adaptation of this tale,
potentially set (we are told) in any place that freedom has been
forgotten, to the stage. Instead of the second half of Gogol’s text, where
the protagonist is killed by the cold and becomes an overcoat-stealing
ghost, the company opt for repeated dream sequences (many more than in the
film), creating a disorientating, multi-layered effect. Over and above his
already work-deadened state, The Overcoat Man (Jonthan Curry) dies and
comes to life, wakes and sleeps, with the regularity of a typewriter.
There are plenty of nods to the film in this stage version, and audiences
are encouraged to watch it when they get home. Some small details are
altered for sharp eyes to catch (the original He Cares becomes I Care
on the Chief’s poster), but most of the additions are for humour’s sake.
Listening to Phil Collins is the state’s form of punishment in this stage
version, and Ian MacNaughton’s boss and the lines he is given, are much
funnier than his film counterpart. Stylistically, this version of The
Overcoat adds more physicality to the tale. The unctuous Chief greets
audience members personally, one by one, as his subjects. This is a short,
set piece with an interesting history, in a theatre that will soon be
following up this Russian-themed work with a performance of Uncle Vanya.