Review: The Nose

Gogol’s absurdist drama is updated into a stylish skewer of tabloid tactics


The Nose

The Mac, Belfast


If creative greatness can be measured by the enduring relevance of a piece to contemporary events, what more powerful an example could be offered than a story written in1836 by a Ukrainian-born dramatist and novelist, which punches holes in corrupt Russian bureaucracy?

Almost two centuries after it was written, Nikolai Gogol’s preposterously absurd The Nose has been adapted by Patrick J O’Reilly for Bruiser, a company that has long specialised in a distinctive brand of high energy, physical performance. When O’Reilly began developing the piece, the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine was off the political radar. His contextual response was to set the story in the equally resonant world of tabloid newspapers, where private lives become public property, regardless of the consequences to the hapless individual concerned. This deliciously apposite new work resounds on so many levels and is performed with such tremendous pizazz by O’Reilly and Canadian actor Mitchel Rose that it is difficult to know which way to look at any given time in its hour-long duration. Stuart Marshall’s versatile, sepia-toned set places events firmly in 1920s New York, where two keen young reporters, Adrian and Rich, are charged with coming up with a headline story for next day’s edition. Things are not looking good. Their deadline is fast approaching and nothing of note is happening anywhere. What else can they do but invent a story – and not allow mere facts to get in the way?

To the strains of Matthew Reeve’s evocative Scott Joplin-inspired score and the distant pounding of typewriters, O’Reilly and Rose explode on stage, striking a note of frantic desperation and sweaty enthusiasm for the task in hand. With pin-sharp precision, faultless timing and dazzling inventiveness, the two perform as one, each complementing and sparking off the other. Gogol’s antihero Kovalyov, a puffed-up, low-ranking apparatchik is here introduced as George Emery, the vain, self-seeking city mayor, whose high-profile existence centres around easy money, fast women and loose living. But Emery is doomed to find himself, literally, with no profile at all, when his nose is inexplicably discovered lurking in the depths of a freshly baked loaf gracing the table of Ivan, the local barber.

What follows is an increasingly surreal search for a nose and its owner, while the errant nose takes on a life of its own as a nattily dressed, double-dealing criminal. The trio of O’Reilly, Rose and director Lisa May have worked wonders in bringing to life this sophisticated piece of European-inspired theatr.

Ends Saturday then tours to Derry, Enniskillen, Drogheda, Coleraine, Mullingar, Omagh, Lisburn, Armagh, Ballina, Castlebar, Antrim and Galloway