Some of the cast of The Government Inspector with the Mayor centre played by Andy Fletcher

Theatre Review: The Government InspectorRondo Theatre

Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 play The Government Inspector is a play for all time with its themes of political corruption, greed and the class system – and so it is no surprise that it remains as popular to dramatize today as it did in 19th century Tsarist Russia where it is set.

Bath’s Playing Up Theatre Company more that did it justice at the Rondo Theatre in a production directed with style by Darian Nelson and Sophie Brooks in this updated version adapted by David Harrower. One of the joys of the script is the chance to be creative with the story of mistaken identity as the Mayor and the town’s folk fall over themselves to flatter the wrong Government official in a classic farce.

The production creatively used picture frames to great effect

Andy Fletcher as the Mayor and main protagonist excelled himself in an outstanding performance as he mistakenly bossed his underlings to bow before the minor official Khlestakov as his eyes lit up at the thought of an easy life in St Petersburg. The non-Government Inspector Khlestakov played with great energy by Rich Chivers enjoyed himself as he saw the villagers fall over themselves to impress him – greatly aided by a dead pan Scarlett Beattie as his down to earth servant Osip. When his love interest Maria demands Khlestakov sings her a love song he broke into Dr Hook’s 1979 hit When You’re In Love with a Beautiful Woman much to the audience’s delight.

The Government Inspector (left) was played by Rich Chivers

The use of picture frames to symbolise windows and homes worked well with the mayor’s wife and daughter appearing in the opening scene in decorative portrait frames. Emma Firman as his wife and Leah Brine as his daughter Maria were an excellent double act in their full-length gowns and finery. Maria’s yellow ball gown in particular added a visual gem as she was wooed by the phoney inspector in scenes of high comedy.

Gogol’s famous other double act – the landowners Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky were given a Laurel and Hardy-esque knock-about tone by Jack Strawbridge and James Coy respectively. Anne Hipperson as a hunting-shooting-fishing judge stepped straight out of the pages of The Field magazine with a wonderful Sloane-ranger performance as she attempts to impress Khlestakov as she stuffs Roubles into his shiny waistcoat.

The Mayor was played by Andy Fletcher (central) with Jack Strawbride and James Coy as his supporters

There was strong support from Diluki O’Beirne as the highly unprofessional hospital governor who declared the patients were all well enough to be sent home and Dr Gibner (Rebecca Waters) who fortunately spoke no Russian so couldn’t say the wrong thing. Rebecca Waters played it straight as the waiter – a tricky piece of acting to pull off as mayhem takes place all around. At the other end of the spectrum of comic acting was Michael Auton who could probably perform a Les Dawson tribute act as he appeared rouged up with a drooping bust as the sergeant’s widow in another brilliant piece of comedy.

Bearded postmaster Paul Dyson got his timing just right with his lines as he revealed he read all the mail and even kept one love letter that was posted since it moved him so much. Tim Carter as the schoolteacher was suitably compliant in his efforts to follow the dictates of the mayor and had a hilariously awkward scene as he tried to not-bribe the inspector by bribing him with cash.

Gogol’s script is full of exquisite set pieces of comedy from the sexual rivalry of Anna and Maria to Osip’s prosaic asides to Khlestakov’s grandiose pronouncements. With its show stopping finale as reality dawns on the residents it remains a story for all time as it chimes with our views on today’s ruling Government politicians who we would all secretly like to send to Siberia.

Harry Mottram

The play runs at The Rondo Theatre, Bath until Saturday, 12th November 2022.

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THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR by Nikolai Gogol adapted by David Harrower

Gogol’s deeply silly satire of small-town corruption offers a riotous portrait of rampaging self-delusion. When the crooked leadership of a provincial village discovers that an undercover inspector is coming to root out their commonplace corruption, the town weaves a web of bribery, lies, and utter madness. This biting satirical presentation of David Harrower’s adaptation offers a hilarious reminder of the terrifying timelessness of bureaucracy and buffoonery.

The company will celebrate 20 years treading the boards next May with a production of Samuel Beckett’s, Waiting For Godot, at the Mission Theatre in Bath.