The Flintlock Theatre’s first production as a company, The Government Inspector, is a feast of entertainment, taking Nikolai Gogol’s controversial play from 1836 and transforming it with great success into an ensemble satire. Taking bribes, corruption in government and shady bureaucracy are mocked with a cutting comic lampoon and the merging of music, dance, drama and intimate staging produce a wonderfully funny piece.
The four actors enter to playful music, their own caricatured style of movement setting the scene for a comic and highly enjoyable play. The intimate stage space with the front rows of the audience lit up among the actors, adds to the humour and ensures that the satire isn’t didactic and aloof but uses the arguably more effective Horation method of allowing us to laugh with the actors rather than feel laughed at. Impressive switching of roles is established through the use of simple additions to costumes such as hats, glasses and coats, adding to the stereotyped nature of each character. A judge in his wig and gown transforms in to a foppish youth willing to cheat and blackmail everyone around him for as much money as he can get. A rather sad and awkward head of the charities commission with his florescent jacket and cycle helmet is able to quickly shift into the role of the dissatisfied and manipulative servant, Osip. Even the audience members play their part and it is great entertainment watching nervous fourteen year olds writhe with embarrassment when a hat is stuck on their heads and the actors shout at them, kiss them, and shake them. We become part of the satire, laughing at them and with them to make their ensemble theatre into a truly ensemble form of mockery. This is somewhat different from the reception to Gogol’s first publishing of the play in 1836 when the outcry forced him to flee to Rome.
The Mayor of this little Russian is played to perfection, creating a caricatured and laughable character who believes all problems can be solved by bribery. His crooked hat and torn jacket represent his corrupt method of government and it becomes clear that his town is falling apart; the court room is full of chickens and the police man is always drunk. The four players succeed in building up a plethora of stereotyped characters that present a society that is held together thinly by rumour, blackmail and bribery. The energy that is invested into each character is superb, including the musical interludes where they dance absurdly yet in perfect unison around the stage. Comic timing, pace and precision are impressively maintained and there is not a single moment when they lose our attention. The drama is slick and the dancing is timed to perfection with each actor employing almost-cartoon like facial expressions to great effect. The actors don’t even rest in the interval: they entertain us magnificently with live music impressing us with their multi-talented skills.
The Flintlock Theatre has produced a five star performance that one could watch again and again. Both children and adults are captured by the imaginative and innovative comedy of this satire; we look forward with excitement to their next piece, Don Q, in September of this year.