On the outskirts of a nameless Russian town in the middle of the nineteenth century, a carriage is flying through the night...
Chichikov is a man with a
plan. If he can persuade landowners to transfer to him ownership of all
the serfs who have died since the last census, he will look on paper
like a very wealthy man. As he rides in his carriage from estate to
estate, encountering ever more absurd characters, his greed and ambition
grow - but so too do the suspicions of those he meets.
This was a two-part adaptation of
Gogol’s novel for the Radio 4 ‘Classic Serial’ slot. It starred Mark
Heap as Chichikov and Michael Palin as the Narrator. It also featured
David Fleeshman, Judith Davis, Wyllie Longmore, Toby Hadoke, and Graeme
Hawley. It was directed by Polly Thomas.
The production was first broadcast on
Radio 4 in April 2006; it was repeated on the World Service in February
2007 and on BBC7 in December 2010 and again on Radio 4 Extra in August 2012.
The adaptation emphasised the comic
aspects of the book. In particular, re-reading it, I noticed that when
the book was written, the classic nineteenth-century omniscient
narration had not been fully settled; in Gogol’s novel sometimes the
narrator knows too much (he tells us what the furniture is thinking at
one point) and sometimes too little (admitting to be baffled by people’s
expressions and behaviour). At one moment, the narrator narrates
quietly so as not to wake the person he is narrating about. This was my
keynote for the adaptation; Palin’s narration is audible to all the
characters in the room, often to their annoyance.
Dead Souls exists in two volumes; the
first is the most famous and the second is incomplete (Gogol destroyed
it believing it immoral having come under the influence of a religious
fanatic). I restructured the second book, making it more firmly
Chichikov’s attempt to better himself and the world, while also ramping
up the sense that he is being pursued. Many of the ‘chase’ scenes are
entirely invented. The first part is more faithful to the book, though
still necessarily selective. I moved the famous conclusion to the first
volume - Chichikov in his coach, fleeing the town, dementedly and
blindly driving his coach onward, ever onward - to the end of the second
You can read my adaptation here:
You can listen to both parts below: