The Abbey's Christmas offering is The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol. It's a new version written by Roddy Doyle and commissioned by The Abbey. Gogol's original version was written in 1836 and revised in 1842. It takes place in an unnamed provincial town where a corrupt bureaucracy reigns. They get wind of an inspector coming from St Petersburg incognito. At the same time, a young civil servant has already arrived in the town on his way to Saratov and the mayor & co mistake this eejit for the inspector. Mayhem ensues.
Roddy Doyle's new version doesn't change the setting, time, Russian names or story. He has updated the language (which of course is in English) and given everyone Irish accents. The provincials all have Irish country accents and the young fop, Khlestakov, played with a flourish by Ciarán O'Brien and his servant, Osip, have Dublin accents. As a Russian speaker, it is hilarious to hear a culchie accent say names like Piotr Ivanovich and Amos Fyodorovich. The new dialogue is littered with references to a modern bankrupt Ireland with brown envelopes, mental reservations and economic terms being bandied about. And needless to say, a huge amount of laughs.
The opening scene, where all the town officials gather around a long narrow table, somehow reminded me of RTÉ's Primetime. The action centres around the mayor, played brilliantly by Don Wycherley. He bumbles, he stutters, he bribes, and at one stage climbs the set. A joy to watch. I also want to single out Damian Kearney as the Postmaster with a particulary amusing delivery of his lines. There's a lot of physical comedy in this play and the set was designed for it. However, the stark industrial look of the stage, filled with rubbish bags was the least attractive feature of the whole production. For me, a slightly more traditional and less utilitarian stage would have gone down better.
The program deserves a paragraph all of its own. It contains a cutout cartoon drawn by Martyn Turner of the Irish Times. I have loved all the recent programs from The Abbey but this one is the best. It features sketches for the costumes, lots of backstage photos and all the usual bits.
My evening's companion very much wished to be featured in the review. She loved it as much as I did and felt that there was a certain sense of familiarity here with Roddy Doyle's version of The Playboy of the Western World. Both plays feature an interloper and mistaken identity.
The Government Inspector runs until 28th January, so you've ages to get around to seeing it. I promise it'll be worth your while.