The Government Inspector

(L-R) Paul Boyd, Julie Maxwell and Niamh Shaw in Bruiser Theatre Co's 'The Government Inspector'. Photo: Clare McKelvey.

(L-R) Paul Boyd, Julie Maxwell and Niamh Shaw in Bruiser Theatre Co's 'The Government Inspector'. Photo: Clare McKelvey.

The Greystones Theatre is an unlikely venue, tucked in almost obscurely behind Church Road, between the car park and Super-Valu, with a very low ceiling, a lot of wood panelling and a serviceable stage better suited to gigging or stand-up comedy than to a play – not a very promising start.

Yet the effect of the cast of six erupting onto the stage is electrifying and transformative. Corruption and chicanery in the face of public apathy (even if it’s only an insignificant town called Baccabiondi) has a contemporary resonance. Here the pigs at the trough are portrayed in bizarre caricature (Embezzlioni, Napoleoni…), that may distract somewhat from their veniality, but never lets us forget their buffoonish greed. Lisa May quotes Gogol as epigraph to her programme note: "What are you laughing at? You’re laughing at yourselves!"

The Bruiser style encompasses frenetic movement and vocal gymnastics. There’s a lot of syncopated, wordless singing to establish the dodgy lives of the arms of the Law, Education and Medicine in the town, all under the eye of a shifty Mayor. Four of the actors, with a repertoire of grimaces and accents and minimal costume-changes (Paul Boyd, Gerard Kelly, Julie Maxwell and Niamh Shaw) represent the townspeople. Anna Sheils-McNamee remains resolutely in one role, as the shrewish landlady, much put-upon by all, especially the feckless stranger. She has an original and disturbing line in physical and facial distortion. These five actors exude a sense of ensemble playing that is well-choreographed and, apart from an initial irritating eagerness, is winningly impressive.

"What are you laughing at? You’re laughing at yourselves!"

As Khlestakov (well, that’s what Gogol called him) Michael Condron is a delight. He plays him like a wide boy – sounding like David Jason – but he has a degree of physical ease in the part that makes him wholly credible and personable, a kind of cockney Christy Mahon, overwhelmed by the inexplicable inclination of the townsfolk to bestow money on him. Khlestakov quickly surmises that he’s been mistaken for the government inspector and milks the error for all it’s worth. Boyd’s capacity to play the part and play the audience is impressive.

There is inventive use of the minimal props – tablecloth and dustbin – and there’s a solid, if too fresh-looking, Mother Courage cart centre-stage, but the focus is on the energy and versatility of the cast. If they buzz like pests at the start, they quickly warm the audience to their antics.

Director Lisa May acknowledges a Fawlty Towers influence and is clearly taken by Bill Scott’s adaptation, which keeps the plot but follows its own idiosyncratic line with the dialogue. But May’s loyalty is ultimately to Gogol’s original (1836). She has created a piece that has a fluidity of physical movement and thought; human avarice and folly are debunked in riveting fashion. She has disciplined and empowered her cast in a playful, anarchic farce.

Derek West lived in Greystones when theatre was provided in two church halls by enthusiastic amateurs. His production of Uncle Vanya was the talk of Wicklow in 1972.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Government Inspector by Nicolai Gogol, in a version by Bill Scott

15 Sept - 16 Oct 2009 (on tour)

Produced by Bruiser Theatre Company
In The Greystones Theatre, Co. Wicklow

Directed by Lisa May

Set and Costume Design: David Craig

Lighting Design: Sean Paul O’Rawe

Music by Ross Anderson and Jonny McMillen-Patterson

With: Paul Boyd, Michael Condron, Gerard Kelly, Julie Maxwell, Niamh Shaw, Anna Sheils-McNamee