Gogol giggles

The Government Inspector (QUT Precincts for the Creative Industries Faculty)

QUT Gardens Theatre

March 18 – 23

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After some pre-show policemen vocal entertainment, David Harrower’s version of Nikolay Gogol’s “The Government Inspector” begins with a town meeting at which the audience serve as attendees alongside the officials of a small Russian town. Word has been received that an inspector will be arriving incognito and under the direction of the Mayor (Tom Yaxley) everyone must spring into action to cover-up their many wrongdoings. As characters emerge from within the audience to voice their terror at the prospect, it becomes clear why the house lights have remained on and it is, unfortunately, some time before they are dimmed to allow the audience to properly settle.

It is a frenetic first scene, entirely appropriate for Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 comedy of errors satire of greed, stupidity and political corruption of Imperial Russia. And from there the absurdity continues like a story from the franchise of Carry On films; when news that a suspicious stranger has arrived from St Petersburg and is staying in the local motel, he is mistaken for the inspector and the penniless, opportunist civil servant Khlestakov (Liam Soden) takes full advantage of the confused identity to fleece the townsfolk for all that they have.

An inspired set helps to take audience members through the town, which is depicted at front of stage through a series of cardboard box models, completing with their own lighting. Much is made of the cramped hotel room ‘box’ in which performers interact, reflecting David Bell’s precise direction.

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The polish of the QUT final-year acting students’ performance of the farce is also seen in the after-intermission high speed Act One recap, a touch which adds interest to an act that lags a little comparative to earlier scenes. This is, however, until Khlestrakov’s individual meetings with the town’s merchants, sick and tired of the Mayor’s ludicrous demands for bribes, are punctuated the Mayor’s daughter Maria’s (Hugo Kohne) hilarious, show-stopping lip-sync attempt at seduction.

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As the paranoid, corrupt Mayor, Yaxley acquits himself equally well in delivery of hysterical speeches and nervous grovelling. And particularly in Act Two, Soden gives an engaging performance as the imposter inspector, regaling locals who have (literally) rolled out the red carpet for him, with exaggerated stories of his imagined life in St Petersburg. The standout performances, however, come from Meg Clark and Emily Weir as squires Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky. Like Shakespeare’s bumbling, almost-identical Rosencrantz and Guildenstern they are easily bamboozled and bamboozling themselves in their transferred enlightenment and epiphanies. Together, their physical comedy and finely tuned timing result in many audience giggles.

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At almost three hours duration, “The Government Inspector” is a commitment. Yet the time rarely drags thanks to its energetic performances and rapid scene transitions, to upbeat musical bursts. Indeed, the production does everything it can to squeeze as much as possible out of the 19th Century satire, resulting in a dynamic and spirited production of which the cast and creatives should be proud.

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Photos c/o – https://www.facebook.com/qutgardenstheatre

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