Dead Souls (4 stars)

David Johnstone celebrates Gogol’s masterpiece in his single actor adaptation

Dead Souls

Image by Heidi Pearson

Adapting a novel for the stage is always a challenge; especially so when, like Gogol’s Dead Souls, the focus lies in the psychology of characters rather than the action. In this case there is a big risk of making the adaptation either shallow or boring. However, David Johnstone from LAZZI art unit was brave enough to take the risk. The result is his one-man show in which he skilfully combines scenes from the novel with the writer’s diaries, resulting in a heartfelt and passionate monologue about Russia and its future.

The actor, Robert Williamson, shows wonderful powers of transformation, turning from Chichikov into Korobochka and from Korobochka - into Gogol himself in an instant. He manages to maintain high energy and a connection with the public throughout the hour-long show, thus keeping them constantly alert, wondering: which character will appear on stage next? Who will he speak to now? Will he scream? Laugh? Stand up and run out of the venue? (and yes he did...)

The intimate settings of Scotland-Russia Institute allow Williamson to physically interact with the audience, drawing them into Gogol’s world and transforming them into peasants, coachmen or landlords at the ball. These interactions make the performance truly unique every time, as Williamson has to react to the responses he gets. This is, partly, what makes the show feel so spontaneous and alive.

A member of the audience wrote on the LAZZI website later: ‘The passion, intelligence, quicksilver humour and Keaton-esque physicality of the performance are utterly un-British and make the almost hour-long show feel like 15 minutes.’ This is what is particularly striking about the adaptation: remarkably, being created and performed in Edinburgh, it feels as Russian as the original novel.

Scotland-Russia Institute, 0131 668 3635, Fri 10 Aug 7:30pm & Sat 11 Aug 2pm, Free (booking essential)

Dead Souls

David WW Johnstone's adaptation of Gogol's comic masterpiece about the charismatic scoundrel Chichikov (played by Robert Williamson), who buys the names of dead peasants to serve his own evil ends.


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