Live Review: The Government Inspector at Theatre@41

Last night I went to see Tilted Wig’s version of Frankenstein, tonight I saw Gogol’s The Government Inspector, directed by Alan Park for York Settlement Community Players and thought not for the first time how lucky theatre goers are in York. Clear your diary if you’re busy and book a ticket!

By Angie Millard

The Government Inspector was an utter delight from start to finish. It is totally first class in the quality of the acting and presentation, filled with delicious directorial flourishes and a strong grip on style.

The play was published in 1836 and is a satire based on a pre-revolutionary town in Russia. The place is neglected and beset with corruption . Rubbish fills the streets and the town Judge is breeding greyhound puppies in the courtroom. So when news arrives that a Government Inspector is being sent, the Mayor flies into a panic. The subsequent events quickly spiral into a farcical chain of misunderstanding.

The denizens of this provincial backwater are small-minded, selfish and deceitful so when they hear of a stranger in town they naturally assume he is the Government Inspector and rush to bribe him with free meals and favours. Mayhem ensues! 

From Commedia dell’arte onwards, comedy works by ridiculing human stupidity and vanity. In Roman comedy we have ‘The Clever Slave’ who manipulates his masters through their self-interest and uses trickery. This continues through such playwrights as Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Moliere and is present from Restoration comedy to the present day. In this play, the civil servant posing as the inspector is a clever opportunist and exploits the idiocy of the citizens to the hilt.

We have the Mayor, played with arrogance and supreme self interest by Mike Hickman, his certainty in his right to control the populace make him the perfect tool. His line count is huge and Hickman maintains incredible energy throughout.  

His wife (Alison Taylor) and daughter (Pearl Mollison) make a perfect comic duo as they vie for the attention of Andrew Robert’s duplicitous inspector. The romantic scene between the trio is truly comic and Mollison manages to achieve a rare quality of sexiness combined with ridiculous display. The constant change of her facial expressions is exhausting to watch.

But let’s be in no doubt, it is the ensemble acting which makes the show, from the excellent timing of Maggie Smales distasteful grimacing Judge to the well-rehearsed double act of the land owners, played by Kate Leckey and Sonia Di lorenzo.

All human types are found here. We enjoy the deadpan interventions of Matt Pattison as the postman who intercepts and reads the mail, the oleaginous physicality of Mark Simmonds, the confused stuttering of Paul Osborne and the lumpen idiocy of Adam Sowter’s Police superintendent. Flo Poskitt contributes in various roles adding sparkle (literally) and sensuality with a sulky, rather mutinous Alexander Mather in tandem.

Andrew Roberts takes centre stage as the cunning anti-hero and turns in a bravura performance. His cunning servant Osip (Paul French) is at times funny and endearing as they both fleece the inhabitants and escape. 

Set pieces and farcical scenarios apart, the texture of the whole piece was outstanding. There was even a band who played in the interval as well as the show and praise should go to Flo Poskitt, Matt Pattison, Jim Paterson and Adam Sowter.

Set in Traverse, the speed and flow of the action is supported by the production team:

Stage Manager – Leo McCall

Costume – Judith Ireland & Grace Trapps

Set Design & Construction – Richard Hampton and Stephen Palmer

Lighting Design – Adam Kirkwood

Publicity – Livy Potter

Oh and as a PS, Thank you Jim for a killingly funny waiter.

The Government Inspector is being performed at Theatre@41, Monkgate from 24 to 28 October 2023.

playing at Theatre 41 from Oct 24-28th