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Evening walk, fish supper with a glass of vino rosso (ooh, how unconventional, how anarchic!) and then to that hub of yoghurt weavers, Lancaster’s Gregson Community and Arts Centre on Moor Lane, to watch ‘The Government Inspector’ as performed by Lancaster University Theatre Group (LUTG).
‘The Government Inspector’ (of course, it should strictly be called the ‘The Auditor’ or simply ‘The Inspector’, as that would be its correct translation, but I digress) is the most famous play by Ukrainian novelist, short story writer and playwright Nikolai Gogol. A classic (and classy!) tale of administrative corruption and overbearing bureaucracy set in a small town somewhere or other in provincial mid 19th Century Russia – far, far away from the capital – the mayor and his administrators panic when they discover that a government official from St. Petersburg is on his way to inspect them and the administration of the town. As this play is your archetypal farce, they mistake a charming young man called Ivan Khlestakov staying at a local inn for the inspector – simply because he is a charming man from St. Petersburg staying at the local inn. Naturally, what they don’t know is that Khlestakov has all the morals of any self-serving and self-justifying chancer who looks down at provincial people, so when he is invited to stay at the mayor’s house in an attempt to bribe him, he takes full advantage of the situation. He seduces both the mayor’s wife and daughter, accepts the gifts (mainly monetary) the local officials and other bigwigs offer him and quits town while he is still ahead. Of course, fairly soon afterwards, the mayor and local officials find out that he is a fraud – just when the real government inspector turns up.
LUTG produced a fine adaptation of this play with costumes reminiscent of post-war Britain and some of the male roles played by female actors (two fine performances there from Emma Green as the charities warden and Holly Francis as the local landowner Dobchinsky). As virtually all the performances were pretty good, it is difficult to praise some over others, however apart from Green and Francis, I ought to mention Robbie Love as the hyper-nervous, wide-eyed, easily-frightened school superintendent, Laurence Beagley as the cheeky chappie servant of Khlestakov, Matt Saint as the camp post master and… what the hell! I’ll praise ‘em all: Louise Turner was a delight as the queen bitch wife of the mayor with Katie Gledhill as her sassy and prematurely grown-up daughter, Ronnie Rowlands conveyed the smug character of The Judge rather too well, Matt Hardman as both the police captain and head merchant was a joy with his facial tics and expressions, Luke Weeks did an eerily convincing portrayal of Khlestakov, Matthew Bosley as Bobchinsky was a hoot, and Eleanor Kirby did the play proud performing the various minor roles with beautiful understatement.
However, there were regrettably two flies in the ointment: third rate folk muzak being ‘performed’ in an adjacent room somewhat ruined the second half of the play, and Adam Atlasi’s performance as the mayor was a bit too shouty and over the top. True, the mayor is a pompous, self-important character, but Atlasi’s constant shouting did quickly become quite weary.
Apart from that: well-done to all the other actors and the production team – definitely a couple of notches above your average student play. Bravo LUTG!
(At the end of the play, the humiliated mayor tells the audience: “You are laughing at yourselves.” Ah… such a perfect tale for an imperfect town.)