Whilst the idea behind Douglas Baker’s adaptation of the Mikhail Bulgakov classic is original and enticing, and the production is coupled with some interesting and interactive technical feats, So It Goes’ production of The Fatal Eggs didn’t quite crack it for me.
Art imitating life. Baker’s adaptation juxtaposes Bulgakov’s 1924 novel against the author’s life to highlight how he often wrote himself into his work. However, Baker also wants to create a wider “satire on the incompetence of governments, fear mongering media institutes and a complacent, ignorant populace”. Quite a lot to accomplish in 60-minutes within the small confines of the Baron’s Court Theatre. Unfortunately, the idea never quite feels fully realised.
After an ethereal and somewhat post-apocalyptic opening, we’re introduced to Mikhail Bulgakov (Alex Chard) and the main character of his Fatal Eggs Vladimir Persikov (Lucie Regan), along with two chorus members (Ben Howarth and Fiona Kelly). The plot moves quickly to cover the background needed to understand the play; and there is a lot of plot to cover. One suspects that Bulgakov’s 160-page science fiction novel The Fatal Eggs would be hard enough to understand in any one-hour play, let alone when it is woven into an overarching biographic narrative of Bulgakov’s life. There is a depressive author, mad scientist, ‘life ray’, and mutant snakes – not to mention commentary on Government control and fear mongering media.
The techniques used in So It Goes’ production also do not make it easy for the audience to grapple with. Fluid characters and multiple theatre mediums including interactive technology (albeit executed impressively), interpretive dance, comedy, satire, and straight theatre left my head spinning – and made it difficult to pay as much attention as felt necessary to what the play was actually telling me. The interaction between all these mediums, such as Kelly’s comedic caricature of a Russian SS operative (with a clumsy Russian accent and all), left the audience unclear about whether to laugh or sit in silence. It also meant that the moments of impact and seriousness were lost.
This was especially true in the production’s climax, where the connection between Bulgakov and his invented character of Persikov are brought out into the open. The two storylines finally merge and culminate in a voiceover depicting the pitiless nature of Government agendas and ‘CONTROL’ written in large pink lettering on the interactive backdrop. The Brexit undertones were not lost on the audience and the obvious nature of the narrative meant that it was hard to take it seriously.
A few bright sparks rose above the confusing script and occasionally clunky direction though. Alex Chard is one to watch out for in future: his Mikhail Bulgakov is clearly defined and performed well, delivering the epilogue with candour and conviction. Ben Howarth also gives a compelling performance with notable moments. I couldn’t help but feel that Lucie Regan and Fiona Kelly let the side down with poor delivery and overacting throughout though. This really should, or could, have been curtailed by better direction.
I didn’t mind the delve into Russian literature on a Wednesday evening (an unknown quantity for me) and maybe if I was a Bulgakov super fan I would’ve liked it a little more and picked up on more detail. But this time, as a member of a more generalised audience, the majority of So It Goes’ production just wasn’t quite working for me.