Feature: The Government Inspector visits the UofA Theatre Guild
“Don’t blame the mirror if it’s your mug that’s crooked”
April 15 -17, 7:30pm
Venue: Little Theatre, UofA North Terrace
After a year of closed doors, empty seats, and dark stages, the lights are finally coming up on the Adelaide University Theatre Guild, with a staged playreading of the classic Russian play The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol.
Under the direction of Alexander Kirk, and with a newly translated script by Kirk and Lilia Nadyrshine, the show promises to burst with vivid characters and biting satire.
Written in 1836 and largely regarded as the finest comedy in the Russian dramatic literary canon, The Government Inspector has endured the last two centuries, and has earned it’s place in the repertoire. The Inspector was first performed in the presence of Tsar Nicholas I at the Alexandrinsky Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg. Set in a rural Russian town plagued by corruption and cronyism, the announcement of an Imperial official’s imminent arrival sends the town’s hapless officials into a frenzy, as they desperately try to give the appearance of law and order in their sleepy hollow.
“The Inspector,” began Kirk when we spoke, “was hailed by the liberals, who argued that it was true to life, and attacked by the conservatives, who found it slanderous and dangerous propaganda. What is certain is that the audience saw the pain of Russia in it — and I hope ours will too.”
Adelaide College of Arts graduate Simon Lancione, who plays Dobchinsky, was more tongue-in-cheek:
“This show is profoundly Russian. And if you’re not suffering, can you really say you’re watching Russian theatre?”
Kirk says when seeing the play at the Little Theatre, audiences “will experience a staging that suggest the 1836 period of the play with actors in modern costume.
“The performance draws on stage practices most connecting actor and audience, engaging the imagination of the audience, and allowing the play its full fluidity and momentum.”
The show’s creeping, dark satire is its backbone. The Inspector is a play for 2021 as much as it is for 1836. When it comes to the sort of snivelling, scheming bureaucrats Gogol so vividly portrays, the names change, but the song remains the same.
“It’s about how comfortable the abuse of power can be. And not just in Russia back then,” said Adelaide theatre veteran Brian Knott, who plays the bumbling yet bewitching town governor, Anton Antonovich.
“The Governor is happy with his life”, continued Knott. “I can’t help thinking of our politicians being happy with their sense of privilege, until suddenly the ‘outside’ is pushing back. This man thinks, No speech is without a bit of lying, and, If I took from some of them (the townsfolk), bits and pieces, I did it without any ill feeling – I go to church on Sunday after all.”
Gogol’s unique literary eccentricities are usually smoothed over by translators. However, Kirk and Nadyrshine — a seasoned set designer and graduate of the Moscow University of Architecture — aimed to recapture and maintain his nuances and rhythms. The process of translating the text from Russian to English was as meticulous and difficult as it sounds. Nadyrshine provided the initial word for word translation of the original text, and from there Kirk proceeded to alter her translation — keeping Gogol’s repetitions and any feasible Russian syntax — so that the final script was coherent and could be acted.
“Lilia said to me, ‘I have no idea how you are going to make it into English, and therefore very frightened. But believe me, it is Gogol’.”
The Adelaide University Theatre Guild has been an enduring presence in the Adelaide theatre scene since 1938. On campus, the Guild is an artistic hub, bringing in directors and performers from across the state, as well as providing a place for young, up and coming student actors to hone their craft.
Indeed, director Alexander Kirk is a fine example of this ethos. Kirk’s association with the Guild runs all the way back to the early 1960s, when Kirk acted in multiple productions as an undergraduate student. Since the late 90s, Kirk’s projects have become a staple at the Guild, most recently with a revival of William Congreave’s Restoration drama, The Way of the World.
Last year, like all arts organisations, the Guild was subjected to a COVID-19 shutdown. However, after a year when the arts were dealt heavy blows, the Guild is returning with renewed vigour. With cuts to tertiary theatre programs across the state, amateur theatre venues like the Guild have never been more vital. It is venues like the Guild that provide a space for us — the next generation of theatre makers — to learn and collaborate, and to start making our mark on the stage.
The Government Inspector is showing at the Little Theatre (just next to the UniBar) at 7:30pm, April 15 -17. All tickets are $15 and are available at http://www.trybooking.com/BGSOH or at the door. If you are interested in getting involved with the Theatre Guild, more information is available at https://www.adelaide.edu.au/theatreguild/.
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DISCLAIMER: On Dit editor Ivan Jankovic is the Stage Manager for The Government Inspector. He receives no financial renumeration from the production.