By Danielle Farrow
Communicado Theatre Company returns to its acclaimed 2010 collaboration (with the Tron Theatre), this time presenting The Government Inspector in co-production with Aberystwyth Arts Centre and producing a highly entertaining play in Adrian Mitchell’s adaptation, which is fresh and modern without having to forcibly update Nikolai Gogol’s 19th century take on political corruption, cronyism and rampant opportunism.
Though first performed in 1836, ‘The Government Inspector’ still rings all too many bells as the various bigwigs in a provincial town are caught on the hop by news of a government inspector arriving. When they spot a newcomer to town who seems to be the likely official, travelling incognito, they set about ingratiating themselves with him while attempting to clean up and hide their messes. This means destroying evidence, dealing with the streets (quickly making it look as if public works are going on, clearing away beggars, controlling the behaviour of soldiers), hospitals (where there are too many people and not enough beds, and treatment is decided according to expense) and schools (hiding anyone likely to seem seditious), while trying to keep any complaints from reaching the inspector, for the governor is particularly guilty of accepting ‘gifts’, especially from disgruntled merchants and those looking to avoid national service.
The classic irony, however, is that the officials have mistaken a fanciful layabout for the inspector, meaning that the governor, used to cheating and manipulating cheaters and manipulators is beautifully conned himself. For, making the most of the officials’ mistake, the young man enjoys his time being well-dined, greased and entertained – including by the governor’s wife and daughter – at first accepting proffered money as a loan from a generous stranger but then going on to actively pursue such ‘loans’ as he understands the case of mistaken identity and happily encourages bribery from all and sundry.
Gerry Mulgrew’s direction brings verve, physical panache and strong musical elements to the story, with the strong ensemble cast playing and singing Balkan-inspired music, and continues Communicado’s innovative use of props and scenery that make set changes and even a troika ride simple yet evocative, with stylish design (including well-co-ordinated costume) by Jessica Brettle and, for lighting, Sergey Jakovsky.
The cast, including many playing multiple instruments as well as roles, commit to strong characterizations and physicality, the latter led with flair by movement director Malcolm Shields. For the most part they carry the piece with energy, though real synchronization did take a while to warm up and some asides during conversation fell a little flat earlier in this particular performance, with the second part picking up in its lively delivery and forward momentum. Stephen Marzella especially came into his own later on as the governor, Oliver Lavery handled the young visitor’s flights of fancy convincingly and Jâms Thomas, including in his role as the Postmaster steaming open letters (and keeping one he particulary liked!), proved a fine storyteller.
This Government Inspector is full of fun, vivacity and all-too-relevant satire, making it an evening of comic entertainment that feasts ears, eyes and brain.
Until 30th March 2013, 19:30 (22:10) @ King’s Theatre, Edinburgh.