Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gecko at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich

The world of dreams conjured by Gecko's Overcoat kept most of us enthralled for over an hour. And not a moment of naturalism.

Director Amit Lahav, who plays the humble clerk Akakki, was inspired by reading Gogol's short story to re-create the protagonist's inner world for the theatre.

The “manteau” itself, suspended stage right, is key to Akakki's happiness: as the tag-line has it, Get the coat, get the girl, change the world. “Cambia la vita”, is how he puts it. His “cappotto” appears as a vision, and, at one of the piece's several climaxes, he dances with delight before both coat and the unattainable Natalia [Natalie Ayton, in a magical performance] materialize from nowhere. In a stunning piece of stagecraft, our hero literally climbs into the coat, and joins his girl under a friendly street-lamp.

Music, movement, light and shade are the language here. Such words as we hear are stylised, rapped out and repeated. In a cosmopolitan babel, reminiscent of the circus, or of the early days of moving pictures, everyone speaks a language of his own; context provides clues, and occasional bafflement deepens the confusion of the dream.

The Overcoat has been filmed many times, there's a Russian ballet, and Marcel Marceau did a successful mime version. Very hard to convey the style that Ipswich-based Gecko bring to the tale. Kafka as re-imagined by Fellini, perhaps, but this is a unique, inventive dramatic voice, a seamless blend of skills.

Lighting [James Farncombe], music [Dave Price] sound [Dan Steele] and design [Ti Green] are all vital, and our seven performers are versatile and physically eloquent. A glockenspiel leads us into a frenzied wedding feast, all in the fevered imagination of Akkaki, thrashing in his little bed.

Esta solo ? Are you alone ? asks the voice from behind the tiny door, our hero's solitary pleasure rudely interrupted. But even in his lonely garret, he's surrounded by others, embodying the radio, the two-bar electric fire, the portrait of his parents. There were many spectacular moments and memorable images. The swarms of newspapers, the mist swirling and billowing across the stage, Rags to Riches sung in the glare of a single spotlight. But best of all was the office, strips of light on the floor, bulbs flashing, papers shuffled, stamped and filed, and Natalia the distant beloved at her pedestal desk.

And after an apotheosis of sorts, rejection and fall from grace, the clerk is led off into the light, and the glockenspiel is left to add a tinkling coda to this atmospheric piece of physical theatre.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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