Patrick J O'Reilly adapts Nikolai Gogol's satirical short story with hilarious results at The MAC
Nikolai Gogol's 1836 short story The Nose is a complete pleasure to read, partly because of the way he toys with the limits of fiction but largely because of the humour.
It's definitely droll and Russian, but the story of the functionary's lost nose, which disappears and becomes a wandering character, may also be early absurd drama, in the French manner, or a precursor of magic realism, in the South American manner.
Whatever, Bruiser Theatre Company's enjoyable dramatisation of the tale – which runs until March 29 at The MAC before touring the country – isn't overly concerned with literary provenance. Patrick J O'Reilly has rewritten the piece and framed it with an all-American narrative about mid-20th century hacks searching for a good ole front page story to placate the editor.
Mostly, this works well and the comedy is unimpeachable with O'Reilly and sidekick, Canadian performer Mitchel Rose, well versed in the arts of physical humour. You can tell that O'Reilly – a long-term Bruiser collaborator – learned his comedy at one of the best schools in Europe, the Le Coq theatre outfit in Paris.
From the opening it's a high energy affair, as we hear the tap-tap-tap of manual typewriters as unseen journalists attempt to pin down the breaking news. As the hapless hacks, O'Reilly and Rose perform neat scenes in the silent comedy tradition: they get an idea, fall silent, look concerned about the deadline, then start to type excitedly.
As we head into Gogol's original territory, the plot thickens and becomes ridiculous. Deliberately so. The nasal passages, so to speak, work very well, although at times the new frame stretches our suspension of disbelief, which works in the original precisely because Gogol admits that his story is potentially a load of high class hooey.
Or, as he masterfully puts it near the end of the tall tale: 'This world is full of the most outrageous nonsense. Sometimes things happen which you would hardly think possible: that very same nose, which had paraded itself as a state councillor and created such an uproar in the city, suddenly turned up, as if nothing had happened, plonk where it had been before, i.e. right between the Major's two cheeks.'
In the middle of the play, when we see Mr Nose on the run – now developed into a kind of mobster liberated from the face of the Mayor, vainglorious Mr Emery, praying in the cathedral doing a deal with the man upstairs – it is outrageously comic. As the now flat-faced Mayor, Rose is a gem. He squeezes past worshippers with that particular social embarrassment you only get in church.
The central focus of the story, which deals with status and self-aggrandisement, is probably meant in this version to satirise our sensationalist press. It does and it doesn't, in that the rather National Enquirer nature of Gogol's plot would surely prevent even the most desperate red top wanting to print it, particularly post-Leveson.
But the antics and laugh out loud moments carry us through this potential problem, with a saucy sally mid-show implying the Nose might be related to other anatomical areas, and then there are some musical moments reminiscient of Cole Porter.
The female characters vamp well across the stag, as O'Reilly produces the mother of the Mayor's fiancee in the dock, protesting innocence of the crime of removing the wayward nose and showing political nous, while Rose is a terrific court stenographer. Both flesh out the other women who sashay their way in and out of the drama. At the end, we feel a bit of the pain of altered identity even as we laugh.