Helsinki wears The Overcoat

Edinburgh Fringe hit ‘The Overcoat’ opened this week in Helsinki ‘s Ryhmäteatteri to sell-out crowds.  It is the first time a play has been performed in English by the company.

A six strong cast of Scottish actors performed the modern adaptation of Gogol’s story in English, as it had appeared at the Pleasance dome in August.  The play by Esa Leskinen and Sami Keski-Vähälä was a huge hit in Finland originally, and was brought to Edinburgh this summer as part of the project ‘From Start To Finnish’ – a cultural export project made in association with the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.

For the Scottish production, Catherine Grosvenor adapted the original, setting it in Edinburgh.  The show retained the madcap comedy and satire of the original.   Tearing into the banking crisis, the show received rave reviews at the Fringe and Billy Mack won the Stage award for best actor for his role as the protagonist Akaky McKaky, an unassuming bank clerk.

The Overcoat opened at Ryhmäteatteri on Tuesday and was warmly received, much to the relief of Mack:  “I wasn’t sure how it would carry with the Finnish audience.” He said. “A lot of the Scottish gags got lost, but they laughed a lot, especially at the financial stuff, and the surprising thing was when a group of people said ‘We didn’t expect Akaky to be so humble’ – I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”

Director Aleksis Meaney wasn’t surprised that the production travelled well because of the themes of the play:  “I think ordinary people increasingly feel that their lives are fragile, that their sense of control is being taken away from them.  What the Overcoat does is combine social message with an emotional story.  There is a tradition of social justice in Finland, people care about the wee guy, and I believe that there is a similar tradition in Scotland” he said.

Meaney also feels the play has been prophetic: “The bank manager says ‘I have to get out of Europe before it disappears in a black hole of its own debt.’- and that is coming true!” he said.

A majority of twenty prominent economists polled by Reuters yesterday predicted that the euro zone was unlikely to survive the crisis in its current form.


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