“All hell breaks loose when, on a visit to a small town in Tsarist Russia, a young man gets mistaken for a government official. But what is he doing there in the first place? Does he have an ace up his sleeve? And who brought out the disco ball?”
Yet Another Theatre Company, a new company formed by a small group of London Metropolitan graduates, presents a unique adaption of Nikolai Gogol’s farcical comedy The Government Inspector this week at the Hen and Chickens Theatre, Islington.
Written in the 1840s Russia, the play concerns a junior civil servant who is mistaken for a government official. Khlestakov, the civil servant, cannot believe his luck, and milks the town’s corrupt officials for all they are worth.
Meanwhile, led by their crooked and greedy Mayor, the heads of the local authorities embark on a frenzied attempt to ingratiate themselves and the bureaucratic and corrupt organizations they direct, to what they believe is a top-level government inspector. They hang on to his every word, at one point literally dancing around the impostor like fools.
Eventually, the bureaucrats realise their mistake, but too late: Khlestakov rides off with their best horses and a wad of money in his hand.
The play is one of stereotypes – the greedy Mayor, his lascivious daughter and power-hungry wife, a timid school superintendent, a vindictive charity commissioner, the gluttonous judge, the twin town gossips, the intrusive postmistress, and a sexy doctor who doesn’t seem to do much healing.
The cast of Yet Another Theatre Company effectively bring to life these caricatures. Of particular note are Gihan Serry as the physician: a seductive dominatrix, and Jessica Wright, who showed stamina and dedication to the character of the Mayor’s wife, Anna – a rather odious aristocrat. Edward Smith as Khlestakov is sufficiently foppish and vain. He is effeminate, but this only serves to highlight the gold-digging nature of the Mayor’s wife and daughter (they would hardly be seduced by his charm!)
But it was Antony Steven Baker as Ossip, Khlestakov’s grumbling, shabby valet, who really stood out – he was utterly convincing, both in his acting and movement. Baker became, rather than played the part of, Ossip.
Directed by Santha Joy Myatt, the play has pace, and is at times inventive. It hints at the debauchery, corruption and even torture employed by the officials – although as the play is abridged, it lost some of the key examples of the unscrupulousness and cruelty employed by the Mayor and his cronies towards his poor and hungry citizens. The citizens’ plight is only hinted at in one scene, and could have been highlighted further to create another deeper dimension to the play.
The addition of modern pop songs provided additional light relief, and increased the surrealism of the play. It’s probably an acquired taste, but is a promising debut from Yet Another Theatre Company.
Review by Emma Slater
Hen and Chickens
The Government Inspector
20th – 24th Aug, Tues to Sat 7pm, Sat Mat 3pm £10/8
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Thursday 22nd August 2013