Stage adapted by Tina Kosi, Juš A. Zidar
Opening February 2020
Director Juš A. Zidar
Russian writer and playwright of Ukrainian origin Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol (1809-1852) was born into an impoverished noble family. He wanted to become an actor but failed at his first audition and gave up the idea of acting for good. Before he fully devoted himself to writing, he briefly worked as a civil servant, a teacher at a girls’ college, and a professor of history at the university. His first novels were extremely romantic and packed with poetry, lavish fantasy and grotesque scenes. He came close to realism with a series of short stories depicting the life of Peterburg, collected in the so-called St Peterburg Tales. In the stories Nevsky Prospekt, The Nose and The Overcoat, to name but a few, Gogol depicted common people, petty officials and senior public servants from an emphasized moral and social angle.
One of the most important of the St Peterburg Tales is the short story The Overcoat. Using humour and sympathy Gogol presented a portrayal of a miserable petty clerk, working hard all day long, but nevertheless living in poverty. When it was written, The Overcoat was considered a harsh critique of social and moral injustices. Gogol expressed his critical attitude of Russian life even more blatantly in his comedy The Government Inspector, exposing corruption, laziness, narrow-mindedness and dishonesty of rural officials. Similarly, his novel Dead Soul is an indictment of imperialism and circumstances in the Tsarist Russia.
Akaky Akakievich is an unremarkable government clerk and copyist in one of the many government ministries. He is dedicated to his tedious job that he is good at. He has no ambitions to rise socially. The younger clerks tease him, and his threadbare overcoat is often the butt of their jokes. Akaky decides it is necessary to have the coat repaired, so he takes it to his drunken tailor who cunningly persuades him to buy a new one. The cost is exorbitant for his meagre salary. When he finally manages to save enough money, he is over the moon. Unfortunately, his joy does not last long as the coat gets stolen the same night. Thus, begins a new odyssey in the life of the simple and honest Akaky Akakievich, who embarks on a desperate battle with the Russian bureaucratic system.
In The Overcoat, Gogol, a master of unforgiving social satire and portrayal of archetypal characters, presents a fate of a common man, rendered helpless and powerless by a rock-hard and dehumanized bureaucratic social structure. Akaky’s feelings of anxiety resemble those of an individual in the 21st century when a seemingly different and renewed bureaucratic system keeps milling on in an unrelenting and immovable way, although serving a different political ideology.
This idea is pursued by the adaptation and conceptual design of the production seeking inspiration in the form of music theatre, (Musiktheater), rarely seen in Slovenia. Music, which is one of the basic means of expression, is present almost throughout the performance, either as a background or in the form of a song and assumes the main role in narrating a multi-layered tragicomic and highly emotional Gogol’s story.