First Night Review: Government Inspector

first_imgThis version of ‘The Government Inspector’, directed by Sophie Pinn, is a lively, fast-moving comedy that provides a fun night of light entertainment. Gogol’s play is a comedy of errors based on a classic case of mistaken identity: the mayor and officials of a provincial town come to believe that a young visitor to their town, Khlestakov, is a government inspector.  In fact, Khlestakov is no more than a young minor aristocrat who is touring the country for the first time, squandering his father’s money on cards, wine and women.    The comedy is derived from the obsequious kowtowing of the mayor, his family and the town officials towards Khlestakov.  Grotesque, sycophantic flattery ooze out of these characters, making it is so easy for Khlestakov to exploit them that our sympathy almost lies with him.  At a deeper level, the play is a satire on the hierarchical political structures of the government of Tsarist Russia, and a biting attack on the fickle and selfish nature of humankind. Pinn has chosen to treat the play as pure farce.  There is deliberate over-acting, lots of slapstick humour and hysterical excitement on stage.  While this treatment will clearly not be to everyone’s taste, Pinn’s approach does produce a sparkling performance with plenty of hilarious moments and memorable characters. All of the cast were clearly dedicated to their roles, but the play owes its success in particular to a superb performance by Alex Worsnip as Khlestakov.  His strong stage presence brings exactly the right mix of imperiousness, arrogance and youthful exuberance to the role.  There is good chemistry between him and his servant Osip (Austen Saunders), a minor but important character who is privileged with the insight of a Shakespearean Fool.  The Mayor (Philip Aspin) and his wife Anna (Emily MacKenzie) tend to over-act a little, even by the standards of this performance, but nonetheless they manage to garner plenty of laughs from the audience.  Gogol’s play is firmly rooted within the social and political context of its time and deals with very specific dreams and fears of nineteenth-century provincial Russia: the myth of St Petersburg as a metropolitan paradise; the social climbing and toadying required to progress up through the ranks of government; the massive scale of corruption in the political system.  Pinn’s production chooses to play down this historical context and instead stress the universal nature of Gogol’s themes.  Although the play undoubtedly loses something in doing this, it has the advantage of making it accessible to an audience with little background knowledge about Gogol’ or Russian society.    Those who are seeking high-brow theatre would be best to avoid this version of ‘The Government Inspector’.  However, those celebrating the end of a challenging Oxford academic year and recovering from the sober intellectual reflection of exam season will undoubtedly find a much-needed remedy in this light, enjoyable and energetic comedy.By Connor Doaklast_img read more