based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol
adapted by Josh Roche
at Warwick Arts Centre, Tuesday 28th June 2011
Often, the way in which a story is told can be far more interesting than the tale itself. The thrust of a plot can be dreadful, but if we are interested in the craft of the narration an audience’s attention can be held nonetheless. Such is the case with Fat Git Theatre’s production of The Nose, which, aware of the thinness of the story it tells, manages to find intrigue in bravado and absurdity.
There isn’t much more to the plot other than the fact that Kovalyov loses his nose and finds that it manages to gain higher status than he. It is a wonderfully surreal story, and Gogol makes no attempt to give any explanation. Josh Roche’s text relishes the inconclusive nature of Gogol’s story and adds in a narrator – the Beast – and his aide – Stick – who are the audience’s way in.
The sheer theatricality of The Nose is what makes it such a success. It is so aware of itself that we are not once asked to believe in a word that is being said. Typified by the delineation of a white sheeted playing space outside of which actors remain neutral, we are constantly reminded we are watching a performance. Paints of various colours are splashed onto the white backdrop, transforming the stage from dull autonomy to diverse vibrancy, and music created from scissors and newspaper accompanies the mechanical pysicality.
The ensemble of actors embody the absurdism on show, inhabiting grotesque and inhuman characters, thus furthering the idea that we enjoy the telling of a story and not the tale itself. Joe Boylan as the weak Yakovlevich creeps across the stage; his physicality is mesmerising to watch. The decision to cast Kovalyov as a woman is interesting; at first it seems bizarre but it’s clear that the lost nose is a symbol of being emasculated. Kate Pearse bumbles along as the protagonist, and Shubham Saraf as Stick is the emobidment of Roche’s style. I wonder slightly, however, about the decision to portray Tom Syms’ characters as more human; when he is on stage his less grotesque persona doesn’t quite chime with the overall feel.
The current production of The Government Inspector at the Young Vic tries so hard to be surreal and real that the two worlds collide without having any coherence. What Roche has discovered is the importance of taking Gogol’s work with a very large pinch of salt, and he succeeds where Richard Jones failed. This is a beautifully original production from an up and coming theatre company, and is bound to be a hot ticket at Edinburgh later this year.