So it Goes Theatre has not only adapted the narrative of The Fatal Eggs but the introductory notes that go with many English translations of the Russian text by Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940). Not only is it not necessary to be familiar with the book, but it is not necessarily to be familiar with its author either – both are more than sufficiently introduced, their respective stories narrated at a pace that varies from steady to frantic.
At the start of the show, the stage is a mess, as though the office of Professor Persikov (Lucie Regan), the Director of the Moscow Zoological Institute, has just been raided. It transpires that it has, but the production must go back to the beginning of Persikov’s story to understand why. The play relies as much on visual effects as it does on the strength of the dialogue, and heavy use is made of projected images, both moving and still, that have much to add to the plot. The sound effects are simple but effective (sometimes as straightforward as an actor voicing them), and sparing use is made of microphones, which I honestly didn’t think were strictly necessary in a studio space.
After a slightly slow start, the show quickly finds its feet and begins to progress. Bulgakov (Alex Chard) keeps falling foul of the Soviet authorities, to the point where none of the stage plays that he has written are in production, having been banned by the powers that be. A sense of humour permeates proceedings, but it is not the sort of amusement that has universal appeal, reflecting the kind of silliness to be found in Bulgakov’s writings. At times the production is heavily dependent on description, perhaps because of the limitations of staging some of the scenes fully.
When the Russian government, in the form of General Fate (Fiona Kelly), desires to “take back control” there’s an inevitable connection in the minds of most members of the audience with the kind of talk used with regard to the UK exiting you-know-what. The government then forges ahead with its ‘plan’ (for which read ‘deal’) with disastrous consequences. Persikov, for his part, is heavily reliant on Pankrat (Ben Howarth), his trusted assistant, for almost everything from correspondence to help with analysing the results of his scientific endeavours.
There’s an awful lot packed into this single act production, and yet it doesn’t feel overcrowded or exhausting. The oppressive power of the state brings the story back down to earth. The production seems to go for the absurdist angle – not everything makes sense, and confusion begets confusion. When the contents of a box are opened layer by layer (the process also being described), it’s not so much dramatic tension as an irreverent send-up of dramatic tension, whether in theatre, film or television (or indeed in a book). It brought to mind the annual announcement of the winner of The X-Factor, delayed by a long pause and then a commercial break, simply to keep the audience tuned in. The downside to that, of course, is that scenes of this nature come across as fillers.
There’s plenty of movement, including interpretive dance, thrown in amongst the technological wizardry, and taken together, the whole thing threatens to bamboozle the audience. But the production works, just about, partly as the inclusion of the (original) author’s backstory means the audience comes to understand this is a Russian writing about weaknesses in Soviet philosophy and methodology, as opposed to say, an American or a British writer doing so. In the end, it is quite impossible to take seriously, and is best enjoyed as the incongruous and eccentric piece of satirical science fiction that it is.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A hapless soviet scientist makes an amazing discovery in his lab: The ray of life. It magically causes organisms to grow to incredible sizes. Meanwhile, Bulgakov is finding it impossible to complete his masterpiece novel. A kaleidoscopic narrative blends fact and fiction as both creators struggle with their increasing workload. Before long, disaster strikes. The government takes back control and pushes the world to the brink of disaster.
The Fatal Eggs is an exciting story for our time. A provocative but meditative satire on the incompetence of governments, fear-mongering media institutes, and a complacent, ignorant populace. Can a better future ever truly exist?
Adapted and Directed by Douglas Baker
Movement Director Matthew Coulton
Producer Charles Golding
Sound Design Richard Kerry
THE FATAL EGGS
9TH-27TH APRIL 2019
BARON’S COURT THEATRE
28a Comeragh Road London W14 9HR