The Government Inspector
Written by Nikolay Gogol and rejuvenated by David Harrower
Directed by David Bell
Presented by the QUT Final Year Acting Students
The season ends March 23. Bookings: gardenstheatre.qut.edu.au
The Government Inspector, written by Nikolay Gogol and revamped by David Harrower is a work that epitomises dry wit, absurdity, and caricature.
The work, as performed by the QUT final-year acting students was one that had members of the audience in stitches almost all of the time. From sniggers to outright bursts of laughter, the audience voiced their delight in this comedy of errors that was being played before them. Interspersed with the wit came the occasional racy, heightened and absurdly amusing scenes pulled off with an ease that the most promising of actors possess.
The general plot of the Government Inspector, apparently inspired by author Pushkin, is as follows; The Mayor of a small Russian town is discretely notified by his cousin that an inspector from the government is on his way from St Petersburg to his town. Being an extremely corrupt man, the mayor, Anton, understandably panics. The place is quite literally, a dump; with a hospital where the doctor speaks no Russian, the post office where the postmistress opens the letters coming through the mail to revolting shopkeepers (no, not disgusting – the other revolting) to a courthouse that doubles as a hunting lodge for the judge who subsequently does little work and a great amount of hunting, it becomes apparent that this town is in need of an intervention.
As the audience is introduced to the town, there is a sudden commotion. Some land owners have spotted a man in fancy civilian clothes. Anton immediately assumes that this is the Inspector travelling “incognito”.
This man is however, an ordinary civil servant. Most of the play sees this man, Khlestakov and his man servant, Osip swept up into the arms of the town as they are paraded around and gifted with lavish gifts of food and money. Just as the absurdity of the situation reaches its peak, the real inspector is revealed, much to the consternation and confusion of the town’s inhabitants.
The QUT Gardens Theatre is an interesting venue. Though the space is quite large, the actors and metteurs en scene still manage to make an intimate atmosphere. This creates a more believable story as the audience can connect with the characters. Each of the actors, some portraying multiple roles, played well. As with most plays that concentrate exhausting amounts of dialogue between certain characters, it demonstrated the skills and strength that the leads had. Tom Yaxley, the Mayor; Liam Soden, Khlestakov; Bellatrix Scott, Anna, wife to Anton; Hugo Köhn, Maria, their daughter and Osip played by Thomas Filler demonstrated their chops not only within the dialogue but with the intensity and energy that was constant for the long duration of the play. Yaxley depicted a man ever eager to bribe with cunning and paranoia.
Soden, was a man ever eager to receive bribes. Scott was charming and droll as Anna and Köhn the not-so-sweet daughter, had excellent seduction skills.
For a show that was just opening there weren’t too many things that went wrong – merely errant wigs and slips out of accents here and there. Additionally, the more “racy” scenes could have been seen as gratuitous and out of place, however they still lent an air of cheekiness to the comedy which is what Gogol and indeed Harrower, seem to be all about with this work. Whether they were a part of the original piece or an introduction by Harrower is not known. I’m actually not sure what I would have liked to see more of as the lighting and set design were adequate as was the integration of a musical soundtrack of sorts.
Thus, to sum up. The Government Inspector is an absurd comedy of errors that has been credited as being a body of work that has influenced Russian literature. It is evident in its particular dry wit, absurd goings on and characterisations. The play lasts for some time yet the energy of the actors did not diminish, and did not drag, which is a credit to their strength and skills as performers. The show does include expletives and sexual situations so would therefore not be suitable for the young.