Review: The Government Inspector at LIPA ***
Nikolai Gogol’s cautionary tale of small town greed and corruption in Tsarist Russia may be almost 200 years old.
But it’s also a universal tale of stupidity and venality which transcends time and geography to ensure it remains one of the most popular Russian plays to stage.
Last year it was at the Everyman courtesy of a singular touring production by the pioneering theatre company Ramps on the Moon.
Now it’s been taken on by acting students at LIPA, a hop, skip and a jump down the road, performed in the round in the intimate setting of the Sennheiser Studio.
It certainly gets you right in to the heart of what is relentlessly frenetic action, with director Erica Gould having turned the absurdist dial up to 11.
When news is obtained that a government inspector is on his way from St Petersburg, the powers-that-be of a Russian backwater – led by the Mayor (Amber Launders) - take their fingers from the till, or their foot off the neck of a suffering surf, long enough to attempt to clean up their murky operations in readiness.
But then they discover the inspector might already be in residence – mistaking feckless, low-level civil servant Khlestakov (Joshua Pulleyn) for the eminent emissary, and lavishing their largess on him, much to his delight.
Khlestakov may be a self-absorbed dolt, but he is crafty enough to relieve Gogol’s fawning collection of grotesques of their roubles while paying court to both the Mayor’s predatory wife (Tera Sheerin) and daughter (Ruth Parratt).
The story unfolds in physically stylised fashion on a spare stage, where entrances and exits expand as the world (and sky) closes in on the increasingly frenzied townfolk.
The LIPA actors grasp the challenging script by the throat and immerse themselves fully in the physicality of the storytelling.
However, there are times when the rapid rattle delivery becomes somewhat incoherent, and at just under three hours (including two full intervals) the production’s endless relentlessness is simply exhausting, with the central section in particular feeling like an endurance test.