Theatre Preview: The Government Inspector, King’s Theatre

CORRUPTION, cover-ups and confusion - words that could easily headline the front page of any newspaper, anywhere in the world, today.

All three also lie at the heart of Nikolai Gogol’s 1835 play, The Government Inspector, which tours to The King’s this week. Nothing, it seems, is new.

Set in Tsarist Russia, The Government Inspector is a classic satire on human vanity. By turns hilarious and vicious, it exposes dubious political dealings, a rioting populace and mishandled money.

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Any of this sound familiar? It could have almost been written about the modern world and as such is a timely examination of corruption amongsthose in power.

“The Government Inspector is a deeply serious play,” writes director Gerry Mulgrew, in the production’s programme.

“This may seem an odd statement to make about something which is so bloody funny, but so it seems to me. Gogol, with his play, has been making people laugh for over 150 years, but we laugh because we recognise ourselves, we recognise the pomposity and venality of human beings when they find themselves, or put themselves, in positions of power, petty or otherwise.”

The protagonist of the piece is simply known as The Governor. And he is worried. By night he dreams of huge rats trying to devour him, and by day news that a Government Inspector is due to arrive imminently in the district does nothing to calm his nerves.

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The town officials are called together and told to waste no time in cleaning up their act - shredding incriminating documents, issuing gagging orders, blacking out of the media - they all have to work together, and fast, to cover up the corruption that’s been going on for years. Bribes, misdirected contracts, misallocation of public money, fiddled expenses, abuses of office.

“Gogol has crafted a wonderful comic situation, where he is able to expose the pathetic desires and appetites of a small town ruling clique, but he does so in order to highlight the social injustice that lies beneath the surface,” continues Mulgrew.

“As Gogol himself says in An Author’s Confession (1847): ‘I decided to gather in one pile all the bad in Russia of which I was then aware, all the injustices which are committed in those places, and on those occasions where justice above all is demanded of man, and at the same time, to laugh at everything’.”

The Government Inspector, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, tonight-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinee 2.30pm), £14-£27.50, 031-529 6000

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