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The Government Inspector fails to make the grade



Review by David Munro

CHICHESTER this year is concentrating on plays revolving around 'cons'.

Plays where the plot depends upon fraud or deception of one kind or another. The Government Inspector is a classic example where not only does the central character appear to be someone he is not, but the rest of the cast are in their own lives so devious that they allow themselves to be deceived by him and fall prey to his get-rich scheme.

Sadly in this production, Gogol’s satire has been allowed to degenerate into a farce, robbing the plot of its scathing wit with the result that one is left wondering what all the fuss is about.

None of the characters really ring true and one cannot readily accept that they could be as corrupt as the plot intends them to be or that they could have remained in power over their little town for very long.

For that is the basis of the plot. A town where the officials are utterly corrupt and venal is about to be scrutinised by a government Inspector.

A visiting minor official is assumed to be the Inspector and the Mayor and other Town dignitaries all fawn on him and allow themselves to be conned into bribing him when he discovers their misconception. He leaves and just as they are congratulating themselves the real Inspector arrives.

However, in Martin Duncan,s production and Alasair Beaton’s adaptation, the bumbling officials would be more at home in Toytown than somewhere in Russia.

The exception is Graham Turner’s Mayor, whom one can just accept as revelling in his corruption. It is a very good portrayal of self aggrandisement and veniality and Mr Turner makes the most of his second act rodomontade confirming the good impression I formed of his talent in last year's The Master And Margarita.

Alistair McGowan, as the 'Inspector', seems unsure quite how to pitch his performance.

He was at his best in his second act dealings with the officials and his attempted seduction of the Mayor’s wife and daughter, where he played his part as the Inspector with a sly mockery which was very endearing.

I did not feel, though, that his bewilderment and gradual realisation and acceptance of his false status was convincing.

He was a little too knowing and faux naïf which went against the apparent intention of the author that he was an innocent sucked into the maelstrom of corruption unwittingly.

Toby Sedgewick made a very funny character of Osip, his Sanch Panza style servant, and acted as an excellent foil to McGowan’s not-so- innocent abroad. The mayor’s wife and daughter were in the safe hands of Selina Cadell and Sophie Louise-Dann, respectively, who squeezed every ounce of fun from their characters.

The rest of the cast bumbled in and out as required but as I have indicated not as effectively as Gogol might have wished.

They were all excellent in their parts and I would have liked to have seen them in a more cutting edged performance.

I think that sums up my view of the production. As always with Chichester, it was well acted and directed but was it Gogol? And I think my answer to that has to be – no.

The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol Translated and adapted by Alastair Beaton.
Directed by Martin Duncan.
Designer - Jon Morell.
Lighting Designer – Chris Ellis.
Composer & Sound Designer - Adam Cork.

CAST: Alistair McGowan; Graham Turner; Selina Cadell; Sophie-Louiise Dann; Pip Donaghy; Barry McCarthy; Steven Beard; Alexander Mikic; Daniel Abelson; Stephen Ventura; Trevor Jones; Kieran Hill; Toby Sedgwick; Philip Sutton; Fiona Dunn; David Langham; Darlene Johnson; Nina French; Tom Silburn; Kieran Hill; Nolan Frederick; Leanne Rogers; Ruth Anderson; Alexis Owen-Hodge; Grant Anthony.

In Repertory until September 9, 2005.
Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6AP.
Box Office: 01243 781312.

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