The Government Inspector is a comedy masterpiece. It’s very hard to go wrong with Nikolai Gogol’s hilarious moral satire about a government inspector’s arrival in a provincial Russian town. David Harrower’s adaptation in association with Stratford East, Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Ramps on The Moon is no exception. The skill of the cast and creative team builds on the brilliant writing. The performance is hilarious, sharp, fully accessible and redefines disability.
The initial opening image is the entire cast with strained facial expressions and it seemingly embodies the pace of the play. The energy is upheld throughout the performance and the actors bounce off one another’s energy. The first act follows the Mayor (David Carlyle) and his frenetic and hysterical attempts to prepare for the arrival of a government inspector. Stephen Collins and Rachel Denning are very likeable and comedic in their roles of Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky who state they’ve spotted the government inspector walking around the town having “important thoughts”. The Mayor desperately informs the officials to hide the hospital patients, clean the streets and go out of their way to impress him. Robin Morrissey plays a broken and desperate Khlestakov who is more than happy to pretend to be the government inspector for hospitality and fine dining; he eventually convinces the town officials to bribe him and leaves the town with money, an engagement to marry Maria and the finest horses.
The play has unrelenting energy and humour that are still politically relevant. The production combines British Sign Language (BSL), audio descriptions and surtitles in a new and innovative fashion. The play features impressive performances from cast members who are also highly skilled in BSL such as Becky Barry, Darryl Jackson and Jean St Clair. Additionally, Amanda Wright provides the important audio descriptions, which are delivered in a wholly different fashion.
BSL is entirely interwoven throughout the performance – so much so, that it is embedded within it. This breaks down the antiquated ideal of the interpreter on the side of the stage, which can be difficult for both hearing and hearing impaired audiences. Instead, the interpreters are actors and characters within the play. The movement direction by Ayse Tashkiran adds to the meaning of the text. For example, it is seen when the entire cast cower around the sofa as Khlestakov stands on the balcony with his hands raised, proclaiming that he has been seventeen times recognised by the Czar.
Additionally, the strength and physicality of the actors add to the comedy. Kiruna Stamell plays a lustful and nagging Anna whose mispronunciation of French words and advances on Khlestakov are amusing. Her doe-eyed and frustrated daughter, Maria, is played by Francesca Mills. Their double act-like humour is enacted in their ascension in the elevator, where Maria keeps repeating “[your eyes are] not dark enough for turquoise” and Anna eventually screams: “My eyes are dark!”.
Stratford East’s production of The Government Inspector raises the bar, not only for disability within theatre, but for all theatre. This highly skilled cast have set the bar very high. The multilingual production is enjoyable for many audiences and I look forward to further productions from this innovative company.
The Government Inspector is playing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until 28 May. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre Royal Stratford East website. Photo: Robert Day