Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Government Inspector, March 5, 2014 ****

By Simon Stone & Emily Barclay, inspired by Nicolai Gogol; musical by Stefan Gregory
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, until March 23, 2104
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Mar 5, 2014
Full review also published in Herald Sun online March 6, 2014 and in print later. (probably Mar 7)

L to R: Greg Stone, Fayssal Bazzi, Rob Menzies, Eryn Jean Norville, Gareth Davies.

The Malthouse’s production of The Government Inspector unzips, then hilariously turns inside out, Nicolai Gogol’s Russian farce about a corrupt town that dreads a visit from a government auditor, only to discover that he is a fake.

The formidable cast of seven is the greatest strength in this show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a bit of hoot from go to whoa.

Director, Simon Stone, modernises and transposes Gogol’s farce, placing it in the Malthouse rehearsal room where the actors play heightened versions of themselves, (they use their own names) and confront the collapse of not one, but three shows they are rehearsing.

This new narrative is like an actor’s nightmare: they change shows mid-rehearsal, an actor dies during a tea break, the director resigns, a new director arrives, the show is a mess and cannot be performed so they make up a musical. Yeah, really! It‘s a riot.

This scenario is based on the real-world Malthouse genuinely losing the rights to The Philadelphia Story and having to replace it with The Government Inspector at short notice – scary business for a theatre.

This anxious, needy and arrogant cast (inside the play) become the victims of a long con perpetrated by the supposed Russian director, Seyfat Babeyev (Gareth Davies), who compels them to enter and exit through washing machines and leaves one actor facing the wall for the entire show.

Much of the comedy arises from the brittle egos of the onstage actors, their shameless ambition, naked jealousy and desperate need to keep working and be known.

The show is rescued from becoming under-graduate parody by the committed and accomplished performances.

Mitchell Butel is audacious as an uppity actor and his masterly vocal skills are showcased here in a an ridiculous, musical vignette with Zahra Newman, who has a bold and compelling singing voice.

Gareth Davies is a perfect clown as the hapless Frank and bolshy director while Robert Menzies is absurdly grumpy as the veteran actor.

Greg Stone provides plenty of laughs as an angry, envious actor, Eryn-Jean Norvill is the epitome of a dippy screen star and Fayssal Bazzi’s cool, observant actor is a fine foil for the noisy characters.

Gogol should be delighted with this tribute to his story of a crooked town being duped by a cunning incomer.

By Kate Herbert

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