The Eno River Players bring Mikhail Bulgakov’s (author of The Master and Margarita) Dead Souls to life, with a swirling sense of adventure. The cast of three tumble through the plot in a stylistically haphazard way, presenting the 19th century Russian story. Chichikov, the protagonist, embarks on a “get rich quick” scheme, scouring the land for “dead souls”, collecting the rights to dead people. On his journey, he meets a host of strange characters that lead him from one place to another.
The set is full of random props, domineered by a central painting of the Russian leader, changing with the time. The bustle as they set up between scenes was rhythmic and characterised and gave the bohemian feel of a travelling troupe, but I think using slightly fewer props would have made the space less cluttered and allowed the audience clarity to focus on the layered narrative. The plot is hard to follow at times as it jumps between the perspectives of author, Gogol and Chichikov. Whilst the bits of beautiful prose are delivered gracefully and to a worldly effect, the story is condensed into an hour-long piece, and it is tricky to digest the words. Pacing was a bit of an issue at times, affecting the flow and structure.
The three had brilliant energy and tempos to their characters, but could have balanced movement, pause and silence better to a stronger artistic effect. Dominic Sullivan was particularly strong in his various roles, delivering an elegant air as the Governor and a grungy trudge as Plyushkin, and with a subtle comedic pulse in all of them. Nico Taylor’s Chichikov is upright, alert and instinctively entrepreneurial. Taylor plays him with the refined balance of being charming and unassuming whilst hiding ulterior motives. Hamzah Jhaveri puts in an exertive performance in his plethora of roles, namely the Governor’s daughter whose Mad Hatter-esque neurosis and contradiction are dramatically stylised. All are acutely responsive to each other and to the lighting changes which contributed to the dynamic tempo.
With quirky direction from Leo Egger, there are loads of clever moments as the dead souls are reenacted as avatars and the ladder is used as a jail cell door. Some character choices could have been heightened and tweaked to make them all belong to the same zany world, bringing out the social commentary of the original work. Eno River Players have a real blueprint for an excellent play, with a gently absurd humour and a vividly painted world.
Reviewer: Riana Howarth
Reviewed: 7th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: