Left – (l-r) Fayssal Bazzi, Zahra Newman, Robert Menzies, Eryn-Jean Norvill, Greg Stone, Gareth Davies. Cover – (l-r) Greg Stone, Fayssal Bazzi, Robert Menzies, Eryn-Jean Norvill, Gareth Davies. Photos – Pia Johnson
The issue of authorship or auteurism not only plagues every first year arts student, but directors, writers, producers and actors across the entertainment industry. Faced with the impossible task of abandoning the originally planned opening performance of The Philadelphia Story by Phillip Barry due to copyright infractions, Malthouse Theatre has thrown together a farcical comedy of errors, The Government Inspector.
Based loosely on the Nikolai Gogol play of the same name, director Simon Stone has managed to avoid legal complications with a clever script and exceptional performances by the cast.
Playing “themselves.” the cast is introduced by Robert Menzies, who flusters through the opening scene, allowing patrons the opportunity to leave should they not desire to witness the performance that is about to be presented.
Self-deprecating Menzies, is loveable as the “been there, done that” seasoned performer whose negativity is more enjoyable rather than deplorable.
Menzies whisks the audience back to earlier in the week when the news of the unavailability of The Philadelphia Story is broken to the cast and their director leaves them in the lurch.
After an unfortunate incident with an activated almond, the cast is left one man down and to fend for themselves in order to find a script to perform to an audience that is just weeks away. Appealing to “The Great” Ukrainian avant-garde director (Gareth Davies) for help in performing the Russian farce The Government Inspector, the cast hilariously bumbles through costumes, set changes and character reallocation in this rapid speed comedy of errors that keeps the audience on their toes as “The Great Director” is revealed in a gloriously ridiculous case of mistaken identity.
The Government Inspector’s charm lies in the voyeuristic nature of the script. As a part of the audience, you are in on the farce from the very beginning, and invited into the backstage world of theatre. Egos, competiveness, ambition and artistic intent are laid bare on the spinning Malthouse Theatre stage, and the cast plays up to the stereotypes with glee.
Mitchel Butel is a flamboyant gem, whose brief escape into the holy grail of actor’s gigs (playschool) is brilliant, while Greg Stone remains loyal to his craft, driven to succeed at any cost. Fayssal Bazzi is the quiet achiever who holds the cast together during the many times they threaten to fall apart.
Eryn-Jean Norvill plays her pop-star-turned drug addict-turned serious actor role with sweet innocence, while Zara Newman performs a double act that closes the show with a final number so spectacular you will be left breathless.
Simon Stone and Emily Barclay’s The Government Inspector, is not Gogol’s original in any way, but it touches on the 1836 play’s themes. What is wonderful about this production is the cast that bring so much life to the madness of the plot, that the pantomime nature can be enjoyed as pleasant escapism instead of falling fully into cringe-inducing cheesiness.
Malthouse Theatre and Belvoir present
THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR
by Simon Stone
Director Simon Stone
Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse | 113 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC
Dates: 28 February – 23 March, 2014