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THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR (article first published : 2007-05-2)

Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector is currently running in the Square Space Theatre on the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College campus. Directed by Rajesh Gopie, it features a cast of some 25 students of the UKZN Drama and Performance Studies department, presenting a major challenge for this small performing space.

This information on the play is taken from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Inspector_General:

”The Inspector General or The Government Inspector (Russian: Ревизор) is a satirical play by the Russian playwright and novelist Nikolai Gogol, published in 1836 and revised for the 1842 edition. Based upon an anecdote allegedly recounted to Gogol by Pushkin, the play is a comedy of errors, portraying human greed, stupidity, and the deep corruption of powers in Tsarist Russia. According to D.S. Mirsky, the play "is not only supreme in character and dialogue — it is one of the few Russian plays constructed with unerring art from beginning to end. The great originality of its plan consisted in the absence of all love interest and of sympathetic characters. The latter feature was deeply resented by Gogol's enemies, and as a satire the play gained immensely from it. There is not a wrong word or intonation from beginning to end, and the comic tensity is of a quality that even Gogol was not always at his beck and call.”

Welcoming the chance to work with the drama department from which he graduated, Rajesh has contextualised the play to fit within a more readily recognisable South African context. He states in his programme notes: “Gogol’s take on politicians and officials of his time rings loud throughout the corridor of human history and raises once again the question – is man genetically corrupt or corruptible? Is it a choice, if so then all within society suffer, if so then why does it exist, if it exists why do we tolerate and so on and so on …?”

Originally set in a remote town in Russia, The Government Inspector has a simple but effective plot. A young office clerk is travelling home to his parents’ estate when he finds himself short of money. He holes up in a hotel, incurring the wrath of the establishment as he constantly issues imperious demands but when it comes to paying the bill, no funds are forthcoming.

The mayor of this small provincial town has just been hit with the news that a government inspector is on his rounds and is about to make a visit. It seems that the inspector is travelling incognito and the town is rife with rumour as to the identity of the mysterious personage. It doesn’t take long before they put two and two together and make five, coming up with the belief that the imperious young man at the hotel must be the inspector. This is bad news for the Mayor and his hierarchy as they are unprepared for his visit. The various departments – health, education, postal services and the judiciary - are chaotic and operating well below par. The Mayor himself is not above blame. He’s corrupt, despotic and full of his own importance. This devastating news throws everyone into disarray and they frantically try to get their houses in order.

Their deputation to the young man completely befuddles him and the wine with which he is plied as he is taken on a whirlwind tour of the (now cleaned-up) town confuses his brain further. However, once he sobers up, he begins to realise that there’s been a case of mistaken identity and wastes no time in taking full advantage of any offers (financial or sexual) that come his way.

Rajesh Gopie moves his large cast around effectively and draws the maximum humour from the script. Putting in consistent and focused performances as the bogus inspector and sycophantic Mayor are Yateen Dayaran and Farai Gwaze, both young actors to watch. Other notable performances came from Tamryn Burger as the Mayor’s elegant wife and diminutive Tamsyn Wilson as their daughter Maria; Sheldon Campbell as the assistant; Zenele Thobela as The Judge; Darryl Steveni as the Charity Commissioner; Jessica Kate Yallup as the Postmaster; ElvisTazarurwa as the nervy School Superintendent, and Carol Gumede and Tarryn-Lee Stevenson as the town gossips.

The Government Inspector runs in the Square Space Theatre at 19h00 nightly until Saturday (May 5) with an extra performance on the final day at 14h30. To book contact Claudette Wagner on 031 260 3134 (between 08h30 and 15h00), fax 031 260 1410 or e-mail: wagnerc1@ukzn.ac.za – Caroline Smart




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