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The Overcoat

Photo by Clare Hawley

The Costi Siblings present, THE OVERCOAT – The Musical, based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol. Book and Lyrics, by Michael Costi. Music, by Rosemarie Costi. For the Belvoir 24A Program, in the Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir St, Surry Hills. 15 November – 1st December.

THE OVERCOAT, is a new Australian work, a Musical, by Constantine, Michael and Rosemarie Costi, based on the Gogol short story of 1842. The literal translation used is by Alena Lodkina. Gogol seems to be the parent to a writer like Kafka and his more familiar concerns.

In this version of the story, Nikolai, an overworked and teased copy clerk, in the byzantine hive of status in the 19th mid-century Russian Civil Service in St Petersburg, becomes obsessed with the acquiring of a new overcoat – an overcoat that is beyond his means, but not beyond his want. In affording it, Nikolai experiences much deprivation, and, unfortunately, has it stolen, sending him into shock, into a fever which, ultimately, causes his demise.

The score by Rosemarie Costi has its inspiration origins in the use of jazz. Jazz, is claimed by this creative trio, to be an urban sound and ‘is a form that captures both the stifled cry of the melancholy, and the endless hum of the insomniac streets.’ A trio, Sarah Evans (Double Bass), Josh Willard (Saxophone) and Tate Sheridan (Piano), unfold the inspired score with skill and yearning.

Told in song and long stretches of dialogue between character, four performers: Laura Bunting, Kate Cheel, Aaron Tsindos and Charles Wu, carry the responsibilities. Mr Wu, gives an enchanting, sensitive and meticulous performance as our hero, Nikolai – it is a very moving centre to the relative success of the entertainment. Aaron Tsindos gathers some seven characters to erudition. But, it is in the undercasting with Kate Cheel and Laura Bunting, that the work stumbles with an imprecision, nervousness and underpowered vocals. Clarity and surety of demarcation in the creation of the many characters that they have responsibility for needs much more attention to be convincing and keep an audience suspended in belief.

Emma Vine has created a Design that has the weight and flexibility for the many locations required in the story telling, assisted by very beautiful graphic signage to designate the where we are. The Overcoat, itself, lacks the detail of the short story and is a relative disappointment in its appearance, for the impact of the story to have the stakes of the catastrophic developments to be realised. Alex Berlage has created a detailed and sympathetic Lighting Design as support for the atmospheres and story development.

Michael Costi has changed the famous name of the hero of this famous story, from Akaky Akakievich to Nikolai (the author’s name) and quizzically has removed the coda of the ghosts at the end of the Gogol tale that gives the original so much poignancy – it feels odd and arbitrary, to have chosen such an iconic work and then to undo one of its greatest moments.

Constantine Costi, The Director of this work, other than in the guidance for two of his actors, has a vision for the aesthetics of the work and presents it in a very confidently conceived manner if not sometimes flubbing it in execution. This 24A program is intended as an opportunity for the development of new work. THE OVERCOAT as it is, is worth seeing. Its further iterations, will I hope, benefit from this necessary exposure.