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Christmas Eve by Nikolai Gogol, adapted by Adam Beeson

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BBC Radio 4, 24 December 2008
 
This tall tale focused on a provincial community in nineteenth century Russia, whose lives were subject to the whims of a devil (Paul Thomas Hickey). Yet this did not seem to bother them over-much; many of the villagers themselves were equally wilful. The beautiful young girl Oksana (Lucy Paterson) made the blacksmith Vakula's (Steven MacNicol's) life a misery, as she refused to marry him unless he procured a pair of shoes from the court of Queen Catherine. The other villagers took little heed of Vakula's troubles; they were far more concerned with squabbling or trying to feather their own nests at others' expense.
 
Christmas Eve revisits the territory satirized in The Government Inspector - the insular, provincial world of the small town in which everyone knows their place yet seeks to better themselves. Tiring of this attitude, as well as his own personal frustrations, Vakula kidnapped the devil in a large canvas bag and forced him to fly to Queen Catherine's court to get the shoes. The devil has no choice but to agree. The two are away for a long time - so long. in fact, that the villagers give them up for dead, and hold a service in their honour (even though the local vicar finds it a terrible chore). Miraculously Vakula and the devil return, bearing gifts for Oksana, and the tale apparently ends happily with her marriage.
 
However Bruce Young's production quite literally had a twist in the tale, as Gogol (Dave Anderson), who had previously narrated the action in an easy-going manner - reminiscent of someone talking by the fireside - suddenly changed his tone and began to comment seriously on the characters' behaviour. He doubted whether the Oksana/ Vakula marriage would last: Oksana was irredeemably self-centred, and would tire of Vakula's dog-like devotion to her. Given the impossibilty of a happy ending, Gogol asked listeners to treat what they had just heard as a fantasy - after all, who ever heard of a devil assuming human form? The answer, of course, was obvious; those villagers leading insulated lives in nineteenth century Russia. The story itself became a huge joke, designed to make fun of their gullibilities.