Writer: Nikolai Gogol
Adapter: David Harrower
Director: Roxana Silbert
Reviewer: Jamie Gaskin
The Government Inspector, written in 1835, is still very much a story for today.This joyous production of Gogol’s masterpiece offers a cavalcade of comic characters exuding the human frailty of self-interest at its finest.The pompous nature of the main characters is matched only by their gullibility and their belief that, as local officials, they are entitled to bribes.
Birmingham Repertory Theatre add to this heady cocktail the challenge of integrating sign-language and deaf performers into the action – not just on the side-lines. It’s a bold step to have people with speech impediments making jokes about people with speech impediments.
Roxana Silbert does not so much direct her large cast as choreograph the scenes which sweep across the large Everyman arena so well. The movement flows like the well-oiled cogs of the corporate corruption the play lampoons. The sheer energy of the performers carry the narrative at a cracking pace.
The Machiavellian Mayor of a small Russian town meets his match when a conman arrives in the town and is mistaken for The Government Inspector, who the public officials fear will expose their wickedness.David Carlyle as the Mayor goes head-to-head with con-man Khlesakov (Robin Morrissey) in seeing who can bristle with the most charisma. The explosive crackle of Carlyle has the edge but it’s a close-run contest.
The Mayor’s daughter Maria (Francesca Mills) takes the honours for the most over-the-top acting as she zips about the stage with the most wonderfully wicked expressive face as she plots to win the hand of Khlesakov. First she has to shrug off her mutton-as-lamb mother Anna who refuses to believe she is well past her sell by date. Maria and Anna (Kiruna Stamell) are a great double-act.
When the Khlesakov’s starving servant Osip sees how easy it is to get money out of the eager-to-please officials he joins in as the con-man’s apprentice. A fun-part for the lugubrious Michael Keane.
Although quite a long piece by modern standards it’s a testament to Gogol’s ability to create comedy from both character and dialogue that ensures the play does not flag.Pivotal to the plot is the Postmaster (Sophie Stone) whose shameless opening of mail (usually to pilfer any money) leads to the realisation that they have all been duped and bringing a delicious denouement.
The main action is carried out in a spacious foyer complete with working lifts which are cleverly used to bring depth to the performance. This is enhanced by David Harrower’s adaptation adding a modern talking-lift to the cast.
The show passes the inspection… an excellent laugh-out-loud night out.
Runs until 11 June 2016. | Photo: Robert Day