Seasons aren’t just for sporting event; they’re also for theatres. It’s worth noting that theatre companies set out their ‘Next Season’ programme months, if not years, in advance. So what crystal ball did Chesil Theatre use to predict that a government under scrutiny, a political crisis and the conflict in Ukraine would be so entrenched in our news coverage right now?
The Government Inspector is a satirical play, originally written by Ukrainian playwright Nikolai Gogol about corruption, sleaze and backhanders (anything sound familiar…?), amidst mistaken identity in a small Russian town. It’s a tragic commentary that a play written in 1835 still resonates so much with contemporary audiences – and not for the better side of human nature! The names and places may change; sadly, the circumstances remain the same, leaving nothing lost in interpretation through Alistair Beaton’s translation.
Thankfully, the human ability to satirise ourselves with gallows humour, using it as a sardonic coping strategy during times of challenge and crisis, is equally enduring. Agreed, there is a time and a place for humour, and times when it is absolutely unacceptable in any culture, but essentially laughter really is magnificent medicine in times of trouble.
And this is precisely what Director Marcus Whitfield has overseen in abundance behind Winchester’s ‘Little Red Door’: 2 hours of slick-paced, energetic, zany, Pythonesque comedy of the highest quality. (Yes, I’ll even forgive the very occasional use of my pet hate – the in-show prompt!)
Every member of the 16-strong cast brings originality and deliberately exaggerated, heightened performances to their individual, distinctive characters (including standby Arthur Wood for this matinee – without the pre-show announcement, you would never have known he was understudying!). Whitfield’s direction and the overall quality of acting elicits every ounce of visual and verbal humour from the text and subtext. There is an enormous amount of attention given to every gesture, facial expression and mannerism; it’s evident that nothing has been left to chance.
It seems churlish to pick out individuals when you have ensemble acting as good as this, without a weak link in evidence. However, special mention must be made of Peter Andrews as The Mayor, whose exuberance, dynamic vocals (always with superb diction, no matter what extremes of volume he uses!) and physicality are second to none. Not even a scene-stealing butterfly could put him off his stride! Instead, without uttering a word and staying perfectly in character, he brought the butterfly into the action as if it had been staged and rehearsed for weeks.
Christina Pye (as the Mayor’s wife, Anna) matches him for vibrant characterisation, comic timing and commanding stage presence, while Amélie Drew shows an outstanding aptitude for comedy as their daughter, Marya.
It’s not as easy as it may seem to break the fourth wall, directing your dialogue straight out to an audience which may include your family and friends or which you’ve never seen before, rather than the actors you’ve built up a rapport with during rehearsals, especially when the audience is as close to the stage as it is in Chesil Theatre’s intimate venue. And yet Jim Glaister (Osip) and Michael Leckie (Khestakov) make it look ridiculously effortless and entirely natural, transitioning smoothly between audience asides and interacting back into the scene.
Great thought has also been put into the set and costume design elements, using a specific form that combines ‘science fiction and elements of the Industrial Revolution’. I’ve grown to expect well-placed sound effects with Chesil Theatre, and I wasn’t left disappointed. The set is cleverly engineered to change locations with minimal effort and maximised effect. (I would have liked the addition of scene change music to cover the only moments where the tempo inevitably dropped, but when you have a production of such quality as this, that really is being picky!)
The Government Inspector runs with sell-out performances until Saturday 23 July at 7.45pm each night. If you don’t have a ticket, why not check with Chesil Theatre for any returns – or you could even try slipping them a note or two…! If you do have a ticket, you’re in for a treat!