The Overcoat Brockley Jack 29 November


Old and new ‘overcoats’ (from NTV clip)

Before the show began, my companion inspected the programme and announced that a woefully inadequate proportion of the cast had appeared in The Bill and she was not at all pleased with this negligence.  And once it began, I was mystified by the comedy Russian accents.  Russians think that they speak quite normally and fail to realise that they are foreigners.  Perhaps the idea was not to expose the real Russian (Ksenia Zaitseva) who played Alla Ivanovna–but a sensible, sympathetic, flesh-and-blood woman as was portrayed here is so alien a creature in the Gogol universe that a foreign accent would be more than appropriate.

I found that the narrative of Bashmachkin’s story–how his fellow-clerks bullied him for not having a decent overcoat and he denied himself still further–was just undramatic.  The denouement differed from Gogol’s–instead of terrorising the citizens of St Petersburg by snatching the ‘overcoats’ off their backs, here Bashmachkin reappeared looking rather prosperous and recounted the story of Dives and Lazarus to his terrified superior.

A prosperous (albeit dead) Bashmachkin (from NTV again)

That provided an effective dramatic moment, but the beauty, truth and grown-upness of the Gospel text (I speak as a complete atheist) did show the rest of the material up.

There’s an interesting Russian TV clip about the production here.  The reporter mentions the actors being made to speak with dreadful Russian accents and also describes Brockley as ‘one of the poorest parts of London…In just such places Bashmachkins are born’.

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