first night

The Government Inspector

Rosie Boscawen has much to report about the production of Nikolai Gogol's satirical comedy, chosen for the Freshers' Play 2010.

Director Charlie Oulton chose his Freshers’ Play well. The cast of The Government Inspector is large but by no means unmanageable, the scene changes need not be – and are not – overcomplicated, and more importantly, it is a funny play.

The events are, initially at least, guided by the mayor (Robert Smith), as he informs his provincial Russian town of the imminent arrival of a government inspector and notes how unprepared they are. Smith is engaging and has a commanding stage presence. However, his tone is too often aggressive during his more pensive and conversational scenes and towards the end his movements become unnatural – I couldn’t help but think of a doll on a wind-up music box.

Adam Kirkbride as Hlestakov the “inspector”, the other protagonist, also suffers from an overly forceful voice at times. However, it is more suited to his character, and his tone is more varied which helps to draw out the comedy of his situation. He must be commended for his excellent ad-libbing of ‘Good God, I’ve forgotten my line’ said entirely in character and without hesitation as if it were actually a line. His scenes with the Mayor’s wife and daughter (Sophia Harrop and Alicia Manley respectively) are well executed. Harrop and Manley are among the strongest performers, slipping from insatiable gossips who have to know the inspector’s latest movements, to seductive women of leisure when they discover he is actually rather handsome.

Slapstick is a difficult thing to pull off, and while Alexandra Groom and Russell Park as the duo Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky are not quick enough to accomplish it, they are nevertheless entertaining; Groom’s fey excitement and sense of importance charmingly balanced with Park’s (slightly) more sensible demeanour. Whereas the rest of the cast are often too loud, the duo’s words are at times lost due to the speed of their frantic chatter.

There are too many to refer to here, but suffice to say that the town’s many officials and citizens give good performances, although having said that, none of them sparkle particularly brightly. Tom McNulty as the disinterested school superintendent stands out among them as really evoking the nuances of his character, as does Rachel Nwokoro’s Yosif as a servant with attitude.

The final scene, during which most of the 23-strong cast is on stage, is carefully orchestrated and looks impressive. Again, there is an issue of volume in the penultimate scene: the townspeople shouting outside are meant to be background noise to the escalating conversation, yet the characters supposedly at the centre of our attention are almost inaudible because the rabble drowns them out.

To add to the praise and criticism are a couple of uncertainties: during the set changes, the crew wear pyjamas and fluorescent, frizzy clown wigs; this is certainly attention-grabbing, but a little baffling as it has no apparent relevance to the play. The second conundrum involves the person in an animal suit, who twice appears momentarily on stage with no explanation and certainly not any reaction from the rest of the cast.

So, should you go along and decide for yourself what this strange creature might be? The script itself is brilliant, but the production is a bit like a little girl wearing her mother’s dress: the dress (stage) has a pretty pattern (good design) and you can tell that the colours suit the little girl (the actors suit their roles), but the dress is too big for her and she isn’t quite able to fill it out to make it look as good as it could, just as Oulton and his cast, for all their potential, don’t succeed in exploiting the characters’ depths and the play’s satiric possibilities. 

19 November 2010

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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