The Government Inspector – Flintlock Theatre company, Jericho Tavern, Oxford
Nikolai Gogol‘s satirical novel The Government Inspector appears to have been the perfect choice for adaptation by new Oxford-based theatre company Flintlock Theatre. The story is essentially a comedy of errors in which the entire bureaucracy of a small unnamed town labours under a misapprehension that peripatetic dandy Ivan Alexandrovic is in fact a visiting government inspector. The fitful activity which accompanies news of the impending visit can only be compared to a school preparing for an Ofsted inspection, and the whole town is thrown into complete panic. Hearing Ivan‘s laments about being on the verge of bankruptcy, they assume him to be soliciting bribes, and respond accordingly. Needless to say, he takes the opportunity to fleece them mercilessly before fleeing town.
Sam Davies is hilarious as town mayor Anton Antonovich, a larger than life, almost Basil Fawlty-esque character, all flailing limbs and frenetic haste, who orders his long-suffering staff around with the same relentless impunity dished out to his wife (though to more effect and less follow-up grovelling). In fact the whole cast are superb comic actors: the voices, timing and movement all honed to perfection.
The cast are also extremely versatile, encompassing dance and song – and even a double bass/ ukulele interlude - into the performance. Music is crucial to the feel of the production, and the urgency and comedic tension of the piece is mirrored by an excellent soundtrack from the Amsterdam Klezmer Band.
The production takes place not on a stage, but in the middle of the room (the upstairs of a pub) with the audience surrounding the actors on all sides. This not only allows the players to forcibly incorporate several unwitting spectators into the proceedings, but brings the whole audience right up close to the action,: meaning that none of those twisted facial contortions or nervous ticks are missed.
It is unfortunate for the company that their performance has been somewhat eclipsed by a simultaneous production of the same play by the better known Northern Broadsides company. Flintlock‘s play deserves to be widely seen and I challenge anyone to see this play and not enjoy it. Their slightly bizarre mission statement – printed on to the pub‘s drink mats – claims they are “all about pushing the boundaries of simple theatrical devices” based on “an ancient understanding of simple materials”. They have certainly succeeded; you get the feeling you are witnessing a masterful perfection of a truly ancient art of storytelling through theatre. Though this was their first production, they perform with all the polish and flair of a long-established company. They will go far. A fantastic evening‘s entertainment.
George Fogarty (Unverified), 27/09/12
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