The Master’s Garden, University College, 25 - 28 May 2011
What with our MPs’ duck houses and penchant for clean moats, not to mention backbiting coalitions and shattered university fee promises, Nikolai Gogol’s play from 1836 has lost not one jot of relevance. The link between Gogol’s world and ours suggests a certain stasis; as the players move exuberantly through the thicket of comedy, life and people are revealed as essentially unchanged despite the passing of 175 years.
The Univ. Players’ 13-strong cast defied the freezing elements before a somewhat sparse first night audience of 25. In both respects they deserved better. Director Jack Peters has capably trodden the fine line between playing up the knockabout comedy whilst not neglecting the social satire, though I felt that the physical space between players and audience could with advantage be reduced.
Khlestakov, with James Skinner looking and sounding like a muted Boris Johnson, is impressively fluent though perhaps lacking a little in variety (I could have done with a few more boorish outbursts). He is backed up by a gallery of self-serving, petty apparatchiks led by a nicely wheedling Judge Ammos (James Carroll), and Russia’s answer to Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Messrs Bobchinsky (a lively Esme Hicks) and Dobchinsky. But the star turn is Felix Legge as the mayor. He dominates the show, alternately cajoling, blustering, grovelling and then threatening. His verbal dexterity as he switches from his dialogue to asides to the audience is matched by fluent movement. He’s a class act, on his own a compelling reason to see the show.