What a hoot. This show is a wonderful example of how theatre made in a pressure cooker can be. Simon Stone and partner Emily Barclay pulled together The Government Inspector licketty spit when the rights to Stone’s intended project, The Philadelphia Story, were withdrawn by the playwright Philip Barry’s widow. Instead, audiences get a musical within a play with a freakishly talented cast playing heightened versions of themselves and taking the proverbial poke at the business of making theatre while they’re at it. You’re invited to leave and get your money back before the play starts if you’re disappointed that you’re not going to see The Philadelphia Story. By the end you’re glad that the original production was cancelled.
This version of The Government Inspector, is multi-layered romp which intends to do nothing more than amuse and engage the audience; in this it succeeds beautifully. The plot of the original play, a nineteenth century work by Russian playwright Nikolai Gogol, has an imaginative civil servant by the name of Khlestakov turning up in a small town and being mistaken for someone else, an eminent government official who is expected by the mayor. He eventually exploits this case of mistaken identity for what it’s worth, living it up and seducing the mayor’s wife and his daughter before abandoning everyone.
In Melbourne, director Simon Stone has walked out of the Malthouse Theatre and the Philadelphia Story project, leaving the actors without a play or a director. The mysterious and revered Uzbeki director, Seyfat Babayev is summoned to come to Melbourne to direct the cast in The Government Inspector instead. However, hapless actor Gareth Davies turns up for some improv practice and, wouldn’t you know it, is mistaken for Babayev. It turns out to that the theatre’s Hispanic cleaner (who strongly resembles actor Zahra Newman) is an unsung musical talent and, after Newman’s defection, is called in to perform.
The proceedings are joyously amusing; ambition, deception, rampant egos, actors’ insecurities and vanities are pilloried with glee in a show which is pacy, hilarious and tightly performed, and which has a hell of lot of fun with theatrical and musical clichés, stereotypes and traditions. The cast, Newman, Davies, Mitchell Butel, Greg Stone, Fayssal Bazzi, Eryn-Jean Norvill and Robert Menzies together make a fantastic ensemble. They are choreographed by Lucy Guerin and set design is by Ralph Myers. All in all this show is a sharp, clever and funny response to the rather large pickle the team found themselves in last year. Lovely stuff.
BY LIZA DEZFOULI