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Inner world of a man

By Xu Wei   (Shanghai Daily)

09:07, October 09, 2011

The Overcoat" is a unique play in that it features only seven actors who speak eight languages.

But don't worry, no translations are required as only simple words are used as the actors rely heavily on action and emotions to communicate with the audience.

During the ongoing 13th Shanghai International Arts Festival, the show will be staged on October 28-29 at STA Theater. The performances will be the last on the play's world tour.

Inspired by Nikolai Gogol's 1842 short story of the same name, "The Overcoat" delves into an intoxicating world where a man's thoughts and dreams spill out into everyday life.

Working in a dull government department, Akakki falls in love with Natalia. She does not reciprocate his feelings and this drives him to win her love by claiming the ultimate office prize - The Overcoat - revered by all as a symbol of success. But how far is he willing to go? And what will it cost?

Though the tale is simple and emotionally driven, Amit Lahav, both director and lead actor in the play, says the inner world of Akakki is what attracted him to the story.

"One of my fascinations is with physicality, the juxtaposition between an external/ordinary world and the internal/emotional world - and how this collision can be explored and theatricalized," he explains.

"The external world, for protagonist Akakki, is gray, hard and cold. His internal world is full of anxiety, lust and shame. To me, his inner world is reality and truly who he is - his external world a shell, conforming and conditioned to behave in certain ways," he adds.

In 2009, Lahav's play was a big success at the Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama. In 2010, it was performed in China at the National Center for the Performing Arts in the capital and at the Beijing International Theater and Dance Festival, winning compliments and applause from theatrical circles.

British Theater Guide praised it for "highly developed aesthetic and broad, emotional storytelling" while The Guardian said the show "creates a dazzlingly inventive world that combines visual flair and physical swagger."

Lahav is considered to "have a charismatic and pleasingly comic stage presence." He is also a founder of Gecko Theater, an international theater company behind such award-winning shows as "Taylor's Dummies," "The Race" and "The Arab and the Jew."

As for how he chose to turn "The Overcoat" into a play, he says: "In January 2008, I read it and felt inspired and excited by it's potential.

"At that time, I made a decision to put down the book and forget about it," he continues. "Having been gloriously infected by the story, I wanted to enter a phase of creativity and to explore, in Gecko's style, the potential symbolism and imagery of the piece."

Without reading it again, he went on to create his version.

Lahav will also host art salons so audience members can exchange views with the show's cast and producers.

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