first night

The Government Inspector

Izzie Price enjoys an evening of absurdity with LTC's 'The Government Inspector'


The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol tells the story of a decrepit Russian town run by a Mayor whose own values are corrupt and immoral – at least, until he is informed that the town will be inspected by an official from the government. What follows is a farcical, humorous depiction of the Mayor’s attempts to pull some sort of town respectability together before the big inspection.

Director Tyler Rainford writes in his Director’s Note: “I’ve decided to abandon any concept of naturalism and instead replace it with a very stylised form of theatre.” It cannot be denied that he absolutely pulled this off – everything, from the acting to the make up to the set, was absurdist and retained no element of naturalism whatsoever.

Beginning with the outstanding costumes: Alissa Cooper and Shahnaz Ford have put together a stunning wardrobe collection that would not have looked out of place in the West End. While perfectly fitting in with the absurdist theme, the costumes still managed to look natural and their attention to detail was evident, particularly in the hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds that had been sewn by hand onto almost every costume to reinforce the running theme of a pack of cards. This was also reflected in the actors’ excessive make up, which was skilfully done and did well to differentiate characters such as the Mayor’s wife and daughter from the large group of landowners.

The set was also admirable – consisting of a “stage within a stage” and a set of curtains with the title “The Government Inspector” painted above them, it served (I believe) to remind us that what we were watching was not real, but a farce. The lighting, too, echoed the over-dramatised elements of the production with its sharp, bright colours, and Technical Director Penny Babakhani did well to time the swift and frequent lighting changes perfectly in accordance with the lines being delivered onstage.

Moving on, then, to the acting – for the most part, every single actor displayed total commitment to the style of acting expected of them, each one contorting their faces and bodies in perfect unison in moments of heightened dramatic intensity. The staging was slick and there was some beautiful choreography in terms of the reactions of the chorus to the main action – non-naturalistic, as ever, but not so over the top as to distract from the main dialogue.

Shaheen Ahmed-Chowdhury played the Mayor with great energy and aplomb, eliciting many laughs from the audience, especially in his opening scene. However, a little variation would not have gone amiss. Many of his lines were delivered in either an exaggerated stage-whisper or an indignant shout, and it would have been interesting to see him experiment a little more.

Stand-out performances were delivered by Lydia Brown, as Anna, the Mayor’s wife, and Alicia Pemberton as Dobchinsky, the bumbling landowner. Brown emanated the high lady, with her cut-glass vowels and elegant poise - even her moments of panic showed her to be every inch the aristocrat. Pemberton came close to being a scene-stealer with her faultless comic timing; in fact, I was so amused by her attempts to steal some bread on the floor in Act One that I realised I had missed a good five minutes of the main dialogue, and had to work to catch up on the plot.

My personal favourite, however, was Alex Colville’s Khlestakov, who is mistaken throughout most of the play for the Government Inspector. The entire production lifted by several degrees the moment he first walked onstage, and he continued to be by far the most charismatic presence onstage,  simultaneously combining the absurd with the truthful.

Unfortunately, despite the brilliant energy of the cast in Act One, Act Two by contrast fell significantly flat. This was a shame, as there were a few scenes that should have been hysterically funny but instead just seemed slow. The final scene in which the various officials read out Khlestakov’s letter in particular seemed to drag. Similarly, the over-dramatic kiss between Khlestakov and Marya, rather than being amusing, seemed seriously misplaced and awkward. I would warn the entire cast not to be made complacent by the appreciative reactions of the audience in the first half, and to make sure they maintain that energy and commitment to the over-theatrical style all the way through.

However, despite this and some notable first night hitches (such as the agonising 30 second pause when the lights went down for the start of the second half and no one appeared) I maintain that this is a highly enjoyable piece of theatre. Rainford’s direction is extremely strong and the amount of sheer hard work that has been put into this production is clearly evident. For this reason, I would urge anyone who enjoys a good comedy to go and see this show. The absurdist style is refreshing to see in a student production, and when it is as well-executed as this, it would be a mistake not to go and see it for yourself. 

30 January 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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