02.08.2011

Edinburgh Fringe: Akaky in Businessland in The Finnish Overcoat

The Overcoat is like The Office on steroids – Akaky in Businessland
 
THE OVERCOAT continues from where Gogol, Brecht and Kafka left off. It’s a cheeky and absurd comedy about the deterioration of working life, but also a tragic take on an individual’s exclusion in a world whose laws and operating principles have become incomprehensible – and the insatiable human need to achieve happiness and love through acceptance.Overcoat

The social satire of The Overcoat reaches absurd proportions, as does the life of the protagonist, the conscientious bank teller Akaky Akakievich. Akaky appears, as if fallen from the sky, in the middle of Edinburgh and lives his life in a world where people sacrifice themselves to work. These people refuse to toss their office keys on a table and walk away, no matter how bad things get. To them, working is the traditional way of living and being. Work is how one achieves human dignity and status. The logic of this new slavery is voluntarily chosen by both society and the people themselves, naturally on the terms set by the market economy. The image economy is all encompassing, calling on individuals to be flexible and prepared for constant change. Akaky’s life changes, too: it starts with an Armani coat. Once Akaky decides that the key to his own personal happiness is a new overcoat, he finds himself on a whirlwind journey through the deterioration of working life and the wonderland of the market economy, towards fundamental existential questions.
 
Director Aleksis Meaney suggests that the character of Akaky in The Overcoat is similar in his shame to David Brent of The Office: ”Akaky’s shamefulness reveals what people try to hide. Akaky reveals scorn, smugness and human weaknesses. What makes this performance brazen is the way Akaky’s story is shown in a very forward and unapologetic manner. It’s not that we want to shove the truth down people’s throats, but rather a positive type of brazenness where the human dimension plays a key part.” The Overcoat is about questions and answers. Arguing for black-and-white truths in this day and age would seem naive or unenlightened to Aleksis Meaney. ”We live in a greyscale world. Furthermore, there is no reason to be afraid of the serious subject matter. The story of The Overcoat is tragic if you read it from the protagonist’s perspective. However, if you distance yourself from him, it becomes a tragicomedy."

The Overcoat also reminds us that contemporary heroism is simply a question of genuinely being there for another person. Social heroism is the act of being present and listening. Akaky works for forty years, but the most significant achievement of his life is just happening to be there, at the right time, for someone else.

Surprisingly, this relatively small act ends up saving a life.
 
Akaky is the central character in the play. Around him, the rest of the cast is like a choir, moving the story ahead in fast-forward. Akaky travels through the world created by the ensemble. He looks at the world as if through the eyes of a child, finding wonder in everything. This Akaky is in businessland like Alice is in Wonderland, and through his eyes it is revealed to us: we are the inhabitants of the wonderland of the global economy. Akaky is a flexible being that adapts, albeit with some difficulty, to any line of work. The humour in The Overcoat challenges venerable British humour.

Hanna Helavuori