The rain was beating down on King’s Parade as, in Corpus Playroom, a similarly grim setting established itself. A bare, black set consisting of a thin table in the centre with a vase of dying flowers sitting upon it; two actors sat on cobwebbed chairs, one yawning, one writing. So far, so glum.
In bursts, however, there were representations of raw energy. The mayor, Anton (Alex Franklin), is a man obsessed with the imminent arrival of a government inspector, and it is vital that he and the town impress this official. ‘Some mayors govern for the good of their people,’ he says, ‘but I do for the approval of the government,’ and so the play follows the town characters’ attempts to bribe, impress and flirt with the man, Khlestakov (Comrie Saville-Ferguson), whom they all take to be the government inspector.
Franklin instantly increased the tempo and charge of the play, and not once did he let that energy dissipate, keeping that momentum rolling throughout the entire play – a seriously impressive feat. At times the frenzy was infuriating, amusing, ebbing and flowing constantly, and that unpredictability perfectly encapsulates the thorough despicability and dislikeable nature of every single character on the stage. The climactic ending was also handled brilliantly by Franklin, for one would have assumed he would have peaked and had nowhere left to go, yet it got louder and more frenzied before ultimately crashing back down to the set floor.
This nervous breakdown is of course induced by Khlestakov, whose smarminess and incompetent laziness Saville-Ferguson perfectly captured. He rightly played for laughs, though perhaps muttered a few too many lines, but was overall extremely confident and had great stage presence.
Sound was very much tied to the literary devices of the play, and was used intelligently. Rather than having asides to the audience, which might be physically difficult given the size, stage and seating of the Corpus Playroom, there were pre-recorded ‘asides’ or thoughts, accompanied by an inner heartbeat, which gave a modern touch to this early 19th century classic.
The Government Inspector is well known for its breaking of the fourth wall in the final scene, and whilst the violence of this was brilliantly handled by Franklin, in my opinion the fourth wall was broken a little too early, in the opening scenes. This brought the audience into the performance very quickly, and detracted slightly from the confrontational ending which did work fantastically in the confined space of the playroom. Smashing the wall early did allow laughs to come from the thunderclap every time the inspector was mentioned, and made the ending clearer, but it would have worked just as well without pointing to the lighting booth.
Despite that small criticism, however, this adaptation included some great comic performances, from the two aforementioned leading men, as well as from Dobchinski (Katie Woods) and Bobchinski (Olly Francis), and the mayor’s wife Anna (Kim Alexander). The latter was a farcically upper-class, self-important and unhinged woman, eager to be impressed and almost seduced by the government inspector.
All in all, this was an intelligent and witty way to start Easter term animated, providing a confusing, insane and gothic look at provincial corruption and lunacy, and the porous boundaries between truth, falsehood and a nervous breakdown.