Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
The Government Inspector (Nikolai Gogol) at Merrist Wood, Guildford (17 - 20 July 2019) and touring to the Minack Theatre, Cornwall, 26 - 30 August 2019
Open Air Theatre by the Guildburys
This fast-paced comedy is another triumph for the Guildburys – brilliant individual and ensemble acting and wonderful comic timing.
Ian Nichols and the Guildburys continue their record of choosing high quality, brilliantly entertaining plays for their summer season of open-air theatre. Alistair Beaton's adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector still carries a punch today, 180 years after it was first staged in Tsar Nicolas I's authoritarian Russia. Civil servants and provincial officials are mercilessly lampooned, to hilarious effect. Satirical, farcical and cynical, it was nevertheless read and admired by the Tsar himself.
The story has no heroes. Khlestakov is a foppish, conceited young man who is travelling Russia with his servant Osip, wasting his father's money, gambling and drinking. They find themselves stranded in a town inn, without money or credit. The Mayor of the town is seized by the idea that this stranger is a high-ranking inspector from central government, come to find out what he and his deputies have been doing. He is fully aware that he is guilty of extortion, wasting public funds and mistreating the townspeople he should be serving, The Postmistress, Commissioner for Health, Magistrate, Superintendent of Police, Director of Education and Doctor are equally terrified. To protect them all, the Mayor insists that Khlestakov and Osip stay with his own family, plies Khlestakov with vodka and flatters him until he feels so important that he almost believes that he is indeed a powerful man from Petersburg. He's quick to realise the opportunities for making money, too, accepting "loans" that the guilty dignitories offer him (all except the Superintendent of Police who has his standards to keep up – he only takes bribes, never gives them!) The dénouement is a masterpiece of comic choreography: I won't spoil it by revealing all.
We laugh delightedly at the jokes and wonderful clowning. But we also hear subtle echoes of the threat of the collapse of responsible government and shortage of honest, reliable leaders on a national scale, today.
Photos by Phill Griffith
This review was first published in Essential Surey Magazine https://www.essentialsurrey.co.uk/events/the-government-inspector-review/