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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 12, 2008 @ 9:21 am

    Reviews: The Nose – Project Arts Centre

    Fiona McCann

    What’s missing from the Tom Swift’s new adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s mesmerically absurd short story, The Nose ? It isn’t the status-hungry civil servant Kovalyov, who is still there somewhere under Aongus Óg McAnally’s thick layer of white make-up and hair dye. Nor is it the febrile imagination of the original, in which

    Kovalyov’s nose mysteriously departs his face and is discovered first in a bread roll, then walking the streets of St Petersburg in the uniform of a State Councillor.

    No, the strange absence in Performance Corporation’s handsome but muddled production is The Nose itself, a schnoz so prominent in Gogol’s fiction that it engages in conversation, fakes its own passport and even goes on the run. Here, though, the title character is largely an invisible presence, signified by chasing lights.

    It’s a disappointing omission, partly because there is precious little in the original to omit, but mainly because if any theatre company could get a talking nose onstage, it’s the dependably adventurous Performance Corporation. Sadly, without such animation, Swift and director Jo Mangan have further difficulties in fleshing out The Nose.

    Where Swift has previously compressed Voltaire’s Candide into a wild ride of playful invention for the company, this literary adaptation seems to stretch Gogol thin. The ludic conceit is neatly embellished with some good contemporary gags (and every conceivable pun) but suffers from an unusually slack pace and an unsuitably conventional narrative structure. Major Kovalyov is now a low-status official on the make, contending with a senile father (Alan Howley) and juggling two prospective wives – the penurious but virtuous Olga (Lisa Lambe) and the rich but monstrous Katerina (a ferociously funny creation from the excellent Conan Sweeney). He needs that nose back in order to attend the Civil Servants’ Ball.

    Beyond the Cinderella riff, Mangan’s production is a cocktail of allusions.

    Dream sequences performed between the warped mirrors and tapered ladder of Ciaran Bagnall’s traverse set suggest a monochrome Wonderland, while Kevin Treacy’s ominous splinters of light seem determined to inject some Kafka into the mix. Fluctuating between prolonged comic exchanges and more effective dance sequences, the production never finds a centre. Tellingly, one bravura scene has Lisa Lambe returning as a TV news presenter, archly sending up empty media conventions, but the words are self-defeating: the story so far, she reports, is “a farce or a satire on something or other”.

    Gogol himself is similarly equivocal (“There is much that is improbable in it,” his narrator dismisses). But while the production makes acerbic swipes at property, status, corruption and power, ultimately it doesn’t seem to have sniffed out the meaning either. Settling instead for an ending of pure sentimentality, its pat resolution suggests this gleeful effort to hunt for the elusive significance of Gogol’s fable has finally lost the scent. PETER CRAWLEY

    • Phil says:

      I was at the production last night, having almost being put off by the review and thought it brilliant! The cast are really amazing and the whole audience were totally into the whole event. It looked amazing too and the script was really tight. SO don’t be put off by the review! It was genuinely one of the best things I’ve seen this year.

    • Phil says:

      I don’t know why the reservation in this review. I was at it last night and it was brilliant. Al the cast are great and it looks amazing. It was practically full too and the audience were all totally into it. Costumes set and lights were all stunning.

    • Jen says:

      I agree with Phil. Was there on Wednesday and the audience all loved it. Saw a great review in the independent which seemed to get it. Think this reviewer missed the point. It’s a great show, funny, great performances and looks amazing – go see it.

    • Misslizzy says:

      Having gone to see this play last night I’d have to agree with the reviewer to a certain extent: the whole thing just didn’t quite come together for some reason. I did especially enjoy the movement and dance in the play and found all the performances to be top notch. As regards the missing nose… while its actual presence might have added to the surreal nature of the production, its absence did create a slight confusion which compounded the theme of appearances being deceiving which ran through the play. Good but not a good as Candide!

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