Theatre N16 4 – 8 July. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Monkhead Theatre’s production of Dead Souls is an impressive debut, taking the classic novel and giving it a theatrical kick up the backside to create a sharp and witty examination of class and corruption.
Chloë Myerson’s adaptation focusses on the first part of Gogol’s novel, where Chichikov, a lowly civil servant has discovered a loophole in the law and aims to use it to make as much money as possible to become a landowner. The collection of dead souls, the ownership of serfs that have died since the last census, is a delicate issue, and the reactions of the landowners make for some fine comic moments. As Chichikov rounds up his dead souls, wild rumours about his true purpose spread around the town, aided by the idiotic bragging of gambler Nozdryov. The prosecutor is determined to discover Chichikov’s true purpose and see him face justice. The landowners are wonderful caricatures, all played with panache and fine comic timing by Jules Armana and Toby Osmond. Joshua Jacob brings an increasingly steely determination and sense of injustice to Chichikov, particularly fine as he talks into the machine about his plans and motives.
The machine looms large over the production – centre stage a mike hangs over a cymbal, creating eerie and unsettling reverberations depending on the cast’s positions. Used as a depository for Chichikov’s own soul-searching, it becomes almost unbearable during his confrontation with the prosecutor, ramping up the tension to great effect. Director Nico Pimparé’s use of projected scene captions works well, introducing each character with a light-hearted touch and minimal fuss. The whole building is used, as characters leave the theatre and are filmed in the pub, and toilets, downstairs, interacting with the drinkers and drawing some bemused looks.
Dead Souls is a fantastic play, full of inspired touches and with fine performances. Monkhead Theatre http://www.monkheadtheatre.com/ is definitely a name to look out for in the future.