Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


The Mayor (Matthew Salisbury) taunts the longsuffering servant Osip (Jeremy Heynes)Pictures: Richard Smith.

The Government Inspector

The Loft Theatre, Leamington


The Government Inspector is not just a classic piece of Russian comedy, a brilliant send-up of typical corruption, fingers-in-the-till and mismanagement amongst small town officials.

From its launch in the 1830s - and ever since - it has been hailed as the funniest and most outstanding example of Russian political satire mixed with comedy. (Ukrainian in fact: its writer, Nikolai Gogol, hailed from there and was one of its most celebrated literary figures.)

It was a matter of sheer luck, the excellent Director, Matthew Salisbury, tells us, and a chance encounter, that Nick Le Mesurier's splendidly conceived and superbly devised translation of Gogol's play came to be chosen for this, the Loft's as always innovative repertoire, and to prove such a hit in front of one of the theatre's amazingly full audiences.  

Needless to say, the initial performances, in St. Petersburg, drew a lot of flak It was, after all, a spoof - an accurate one - on the widespread corruption that belied small-town Russia and rendered hapless ordinary folk the victims of jumped-up, cheating officials. Yet praise came from an unexpected source.


The Mayor (Matthew Salisbury) assailed by Harrison Horsley (Bobchinsky) and Dylan Marshall (Dobchinsky)

The Tsar himself saw the play and said "there is nothing sinister in the comedy, as it is only a unveiling of misdeeds in local government - and even me!" Indeed the idea for the story came from none other than Pushkin. 

Matthew Salisbury has amassed, and beautfully directed, an ideal cast for this amusing and enterprising production. First and foremost came himself, who took on the role of the Mayor and from the very first scene gave us a splendidly bluff, manipulative character, one whose cheating and mischief - his grubby machinations - stopped at nothing to bamboozle any one foolish enough to fall for his misbehaviour. He thinks these are mere indiscretions, but he has many victims. He is a bit of a bully, and certainly a liar, albeit an amiable one.

A major part of the fun is that the Mayor is the one who is most dramatically duped. The story centres on various officials, but Salisbury's Mayor above all, being duped into believing an inspector from central Government is coming to assess the quality of all the local authority. The news creates panic all-round, with the Mayor the main but not the only one to be horrified: not least the Judge (Lyapkin - a delightfully hairbrained character from Mark Oram) and The Head of Schools (a perfect, panicky performance from John Fenner).

The real fun centres on the arrival of a stranger, one Khlestakov (Giles Allen-Bowden, splendidly playful) and his manservant Osip. Immediately the ridiculously scared officials bizarrely take him to be the Inspector, and the excellent humour in this production centred round their response.


The Postmaster (Elaine Freeborn) and Khlestakov (Giles Allen-Bowden)

 They fawn and cringe, toady, kowtow and grovel - the Mayor the most servile and obsequious of all, abetted by two youngsters, comically called Bobchinsky (Harrison Horsley, alive and alert) and Dobchinsky (the refined, formal, gentlemanly Dylan Marshall).

A new detail is added when Khlestakov, to the anxiety of her somewhat snooty mother (Cheryl Laverick), the Mayor's wife, is enchanted by Maria (their delightful 18 year old daughter, Anna Butcher). Once again, the grasping, rapacious, and now despairing Mayor is worsted. The comedy uninvolves. Everyone is hoodwinked.

Someone who isn't is Elaine Freeborn's delightful bustling Postmaster. But a high point of the show came from a soliloquy: the splendid put-upon but intelligent servant Osip (Jeremy Heynes), who delivers a masterpiece of a solo, and follows that with a splendid twosome shared with Allen-Bowden's Khlestakov. Just a couple of the magnificent touches and comedic inventions in Matthew Salisbury's admirable and constantly inspired staging.

A beautiful set design by Amy Carroll, modestly manoeuvred, was part of the icing on the cake. But so was Oliver Rowles' enchanting sound design, selecting Russian Folksongs, some from the very same period as Gogol's masterpiece. 'Dark Eyes' (Ochi chyornye), and Kazachok. Wonderful atmosphere. Just perfect for the occasion. To 15-06-24.

Roderic Dunnett


The Loft

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