Canstage, The Overcoat

Review in Issue 16-1 | Spring 2004

On a set worthy of a West End musical, Canadian company Canstage’s 22 performers bring to the Barbican their interpretation of ‘The Overcoat’. Gogol’s story, set in pre-revolution Russia, is multi-layered with metaphor, symbolism and intricate subtleties. It is the story of an ordinary office worker, an everyman treading the conveyor belt of life until he manages to buy for himself the most beautiful coat, which changes his life. It is a universal story often used as inspiration for theatre productions in Russia.

For me, there were two fundamental problems with Canstage’s production. First, the use of music. The entire piece was performed to a relentless selection of Shostakovich’s works. The music only stopped once – a very short-lived but effective moment when the sound of the strings of the orchestra, interlaced with the sound of sewing machines, dies down leaving only the machines tap-tapping away at the cloth for the magnificent purple coat.

Secondly, the piece was choreographed so precisely that the performers were left no freedom to interpret their roles. After fifteen minutes the choreography became predictable and contrived, the performers (and even the lighting operators) had to move always on the beat throughout the piece. This became tedious to watch. The performers were moving from an impulse which came from without never from within. In the programme the piece is likened to Keaton and Chaplin. But I have never watched Chaplin or Keaton without being moved – every one of their physical movements is an impulse from within the truth of their characters physicalised. In Canstage’s The Overcoat I found no truth.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jan 2004

This article in the magazine

Issue 16-1
p. 25