Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 13, No. 3. March 16th, 1950
The Government Inspector
The Government Inspector
"What are you laughing at? You are laughing at yourselves!"
So says the Mayor in the last scene of Gogl'a drama. This, no doubt is the crux of the whole play. We are intended, then, to see ourselves as we are—petty, corrupt and muddling. The tables are turned, and our daughter should fall slyly back on ourselves.
The task of the Unity Theatre was to print on our minds this question mark against society, to create a [unclear: hunpur] and a cynicism which would make us wriggle. Did they accomplish this?
To my mind, the humour was there, but somehow, the satire was a little blunted. Satire needs a finely drawn pen, and this play, now over 100 years old, seems too naive perhaps in conception to us moderns; and in order to get across the broad humour, buffoonery must needs be resorted to. It is hard to mix salt and sugar, and somehow the flavour of the sugar overcame the bite of the salt But in this then the fault of the play, the Unity Theatre, or the audience?
The production was well attempted, but there were awkward gaps and pauses and repetition of action which could have been avoided. The first act, which is rather a dramatic bog, needs sustained and sincere acting to take it over the muddy patches; this acting on the whole was not forthcoming. The Mayor, Brian Brimer, had the largest burden in characterisation. I admired his acting, he was fussy and laughable, cruel and pathetic. Yet his acting needed something else—an interpretation which could link these traits into a complete character. His fuss and explosions became a little monotonous, and the selfish egoist at the beginning gave us little clue to the weary philosopher at the end—"you are laughing at yourself."
The part of the Dandy, accidentally impersonating the feared Inspector, was clear cut. His character did not have the facets of the Mayor, and he was as gay and light as he was intended to be. Now for the Councillors. Were they intended to be people or puppets? It took quite a while to remember which gentleman was in charge of what Gogol in-dentified them by giving us their individual ways of muddling, but in this production, we became more aware of defects of character than personalities. These gentlemen certainly acted as a team, but to such an extent that they almost ironed each other out However, Bobchinsky and Dobchlnsky were very delightful; their team work was a triumph of synchronization, and the lisper deserved all the laughs he got.
The Mayor's wife could have been more sophisticated than that even for a small town. It was rather difficult to decide what she was, as she shifted from youth to middle age with amazing rapidity. One of the most interesting problems raised by the production was why the shopkeepers were taken in and ordered around by the Council, when obviously at least in their acting, the shopkeepers were far more astute than their masters—and certainly more crafty. We can see no reason why the leaders of the town have gained their official positions; and how the fiery and ingenious townspeople can take any notice of them is a mystery.
The scenery, painted no doubt to look unusual and interesting resulted in appearing rather, crude, and the costumes somewhat makeshift and bedraggled.
The Unity Theatre have the talent, the energy and the enthusiasm: what is lacking is the technique to produce the verve and polish of the overseas professional stage.
Could the answer be a National Theatre?—M.W.