This was a stylised production full of asides, freezes and tableaux. Gogol's characters border on the grotesque, and the actors relished the opportunity to parade their flaws. This was particularly clear in the case of the first family of the town: the spluttering cruelty of the Governor was vigorously realised by Liam Rock, while Verity Thomson and Cecilia Jay (as the wife and daughter respectively) revelled in their vanities as they competed for the heart of the Inspector. Ivan Khlestakov, the minor clerk mistaken for the eponymous Inspector, is a wonderful role for an actor: a casual and amoral scoundrel, he remains engaging and even likable because of the pettiness he brings out in others. Maxi Lampert played Khlestakov at a perfect pitch: with deadpan absurdity he bragged, cajoled and swaggered his way through the town and delivered the satire with deadly innocence. Above all, the main characters were genuinely funny, delivering Gogol's sometimes cumbersome lines with great deftness.
The play is a sequence of set pieces exploiting the dramatic irony of mistaken identity, from Khlestakov's increasingly drunken bragging to the seduction of Anna and Marya and the wonderfully vicious final revelation. Much of the humour in these scenes came from the well-drawn minor characters who offered a glimpse of life outside the Governor's residence. Ed Perkins as the roguish Osip and his opposite number Mishka, played with seductive sullenness by Thea Mead, had the audience sniggering into their sleeves, and the several town officials all deserved their moment in the satirical spotlight.
With a set design that paid homage to Meyerhold's famous 1926 Moscow production and a comically Russian soundtrack, Jim Grant's production was both faithful to its source and suggestively up-to-date. After all, as we were forcibly reminded, we were in fact laughing at ourselves.
This review refers to the performance of Friday 11 May 2012. Different casts were employed on different nights. For the full cast lists please see the programme.
Click to view The Government Inspector programme