29 May - 2 Jun 1998

the overcoat (1998)

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre

Let us take you down the Nevsky Prospect, St Petersburg's boulevard of fantastic delights. You will meet wonderful moustaches which no pen could describe and no paint brush depict. But beware! For at night a ghost is lurking, ready to snatch your coat......(Inspired by the works of Gogol and Dostoevsky)

In 2001 and 2004, Theatre du Pif redeveloped The Overcoat concentrating only on Gogol's short story. Director and Dramaturg's programme notes:Ingredients to the square dreamThe inspiration to work together probably came through the many times that we've eaten together. Such a simple thing, the need to eat bringing us to work together.

While preparing for the production, we came across a letter that Gogol wrote to his mother asking for help to pay for his monthly expenditures.

Rent 25
Water carries 2
Table 25
one pair gloves 3
Firewood 7
Two handkerchiefs 2
Sugar, tea, bread 20  
Cab, barber, etc 5
Candles 3
Public baths 1.5

How could we be able to convey this in our production, that so many important needs in life are just so simple?

When nothing in fact is that simple.The clerks: with a job that no one could possibly be good at, because it's so 'simple'. They are unlikely but yet common heroes. They are part of life's most unromantic characteristics.

There is Akaky, 'hero' of Gogol's The Overcoat, who was able to fit his life within those very frames, and to enjoy the flatness of its very surface of just eating, sleeping and copying. The only 'but...' in his life came from the fearful consequences of his desiring for more.

But, we found that for the many clerks in Dostoevsky's stories, who spun webs of parody, deceit, fantasy, and glory with indigestible potions of quietude and angst; saw themselves in the street lamp reproduced in doubles, and multiples of three and fours; yet, still searching for some kind of inner 'truth', they touched us in a different way from Akaky. 

Later, revisiting these stories in Berman's essays on Petersburg, we touch upon another link running through our lives and theirs.  We learn of the king who built St Petersburg overnight by bringing in people from the entire country. Using sweat and blood, they created for him an 'expensive' city. A city that seeks. It searches outwardly by looking to expand and compresses inwardly through geometric orderliness.  City streets that are windows to the city itself as they are windows to the world.
People coming to the city. A city reproducing other cities, but sought to be even more perfect. How do we live its spaces? Inhabit its streets? On Nevsky Prospect, are they clerks and other casts of characters who are living a king's dream? Made-to-order people or misfits?
Eating and working together, we've dipped into an amazingly rich feast: so many stories, each paying tribute to one another, all replaying the Petersburg legend and the legend of the cities in so many different ways: Gogol's The Overcoat, The Nose, Nevsky Prospect, Biely's St Petersburg, Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, The Double, The Landlady, White Nights...... Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman, and Berman's All That is Solid Melts Into Air.

Hence, from Gogol, to Dostoevsky, and then to the city in which the stories took place, and to the cities of our lives......; we will continue to explore - with the performers and the rest of the production team - this dream of a city that simply refuses to be just square.

In English
Presented by the Provisional Urban Council 

the overcoat 1998