The Fatal Eggs
Mikhail Bulgakov adapted by Douglas Baker
So it Goes Theatre
Barons Court Theatre
Most of those who read or heard spoken Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Fatal Eggs in 1920s Russia knew exactly what it was about. Its tale of a government rushing to use a new red light to replace its chicken population wiped out by disease had to be a satirical swipe at the Communist government. Certainly the State security police, the GPU, thought so, giving Bulgakov a number of unpleasant visits.
The Soviets have gone, but governments and business still embark on mad ventures that cause misery. Think only of the wonderful cladding on Grenfell Tower or the love affair of American business with genetically modified food. Such things can make The Fatal Egg very relevant.
But So it Goes Theatre manages to make it feel slight, confusing and cluttered.
The central story of Persikov (Lucie Regan), the hapless scientist whose discovery turns him into a victim of the government, the reporters and the mob, is told by narrators and some dramatised scenes. A context is provided by the insertion at regular intervals of Bulgakov (Alex Chard) describing his mistreatment by the authorities.
The company tries to liven things up with cartoon physical movements in its main story along with back screen projections of pictures, Futurist graphics and animation. But all of this is distracting or puzzling. Thus we get a couple of characters chucking eggs to each other, a slow motion response to answering the telephone and the whole show opening for some reason by the four actors slowly walking round the darkened stage with torches.
A good deal of the narration also puzzles. For instance, what were we supposed to make of an actor saying that Persikov “has no idea he is a device in a book. He has no idea he is played by a woman”? Were they trying to add a bit of surreal metatheatre to the sixty-minute mix?
It was like going to a restaurant for a three-course meal to find they had slapped the lot into a single dish. Although a few in the audience looked impressed at what they had seen, there were many who looked bewildered.
In the final moments of the show, the company consoled us with a Russian version of the Beatles song “Let it Be” and I suspect there were more than a few who wished they had.