January 24, 1998: Gogol, The Government Inspector

Almeida. Evening. Adapted by John Byrne,

We could only get seats high up in the Circle for this popular production, but it didn’t matter; the view was clear and compelling. This is an adaptation of the play to Scots English, but retaining the Russian names and place names. Implicit in this adaptation is a kind of double assertion: of the illegitimacy of Scottish nationalism and at the same time of its viability as a universal language that can reveal the truth about human nature. This is very broadly played farce-satire, in the style encouraged by Byrne’s wonderfully vital and vibrant adaptation. We saw the same play, much more extensively adapted to Northern Irish names and places, in a production at the Tricycle Theatre two years ago, and it works very well there too . I conclude that Gogol’s play is a sturdy, time-tested masterpiece that survives — and thrives on — translation and adaptation of all kinds. After all, human nature being the cupiditous, grasping, selfish thing it is, and the capacity for self-delusion being as great in Scotland and Ireland of the present day as in Czarist Russia in 1836.

The gesture of this production is exceedingly broad, and masterfully well-maintained. It is played at white-hot heat that generates a consistent temperature and yet remains extremely clear. It is a kind of irresistible, irreversible Juggernaut in its momentum: once the ne’er-do-well in the local hotel is mistaken for the government inspector that they all fear, the play careens toward disaster for all the officials of the town. Among an exceedingly strong cast there are several standouts: Ian McDiarmid (co-artistic director of the Almeida) as the Lord Provost; Khlestakov as the effete, penniless imposter, with his idol-rich, toney language and manner, an accomplished con-man, played by Tom Hollander.



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An American Playgoer in London by Joseph Donohue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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