The Government Inspector Kings Theatre

Let’s see now. This is a story about a culture of bribes and backhanders, reading private messages and cronyism among bureaucrats. Is this play about the hacking of phone messages or maybe the Edinburgh housing repair scandal? Actually, no. It’s a play by Nikolai Gogol set in Tsarist Russia and written in 1835 but the fact that it’s still being performed is a fair indication that some things never change.

The town Governor (Stephen Marzella) hears that the Government Inspector is travelling incognito to inspect the town and taking fright immediately summons the town officials to plan a cover up of the generally corrupt administration. In the resulting panic they all blame each other for the corruption and involve the Postmaster (Jâms Thomas), asking him to open messages to try and identify the Government Inspector.

After much farce they think they have identified the Inspector (played by Oliver Lavery), staying at a local Inn. But in fact he is the penniless Khlestakov, who can’t pay his account. He plays along with the officials’ mistake, eventually blagging money (not bribes, just loans) and proposing marriage to the Governor’s daughter Marya (Kate Quinnell). The Governor’s wife Anna (Pauline Knowles) and Marya compete for Khlestakov’s attention and are shameless social climbers. When Anna thinks her daughter is going to marry Khlestakov, she dreams of moving to the ‘pre-eminent house’ in St Petersburg.

When the merchants riot and he’s in danger of being found out Khlestakov takes off, abandoning Marya and making off with the money. His comment that the townsfolk are ‘ridiculous people’ makes no acknowledgement that he is equally dishonest in taking bribes and using people. In his opinion all anyone wants is respect and friendship but none of the characters in the play, including himself, can aspire to this as immorality is endemic.

Oliver Lavery’s portrayal of Khlestakov aka The Inspector becomes increasingly frenetic as the play progresses with more than a passing nod to the style of John Cleese and Monty Python. The talented cast also provide the musical interludes, playing various instruments including saxophone, clarinet, balalaika, violin, trumpet and drums (although the least said about Lavery’s singing the better). The play is set in Russia and yet the accents are Scottish, Welsh and English which was initially distracting until the action takes over.
The play has no ‘hero’. Every one of the characters in this play is manipulative and out for what they can get in some way. This is a clever farce which explores the distasteful aspects of society and the corruption of power and it’s not hard to see these vices mirrored today.

Val Clark