This touring production of The Government Inspector, an initiative of the Ramps on the Moon project, aims to put deaf and disabled artists and audiences at the centre of their work.
We’re a small town on the fold of the bloody map…..! Get a horse here, it takes three years galloping full tilt to reach the outer fringes of anywhere.
It’s the opening of the show, set to the strains of Russian folk music. The cast rush on in a highly choreographed sequence, bursting with energy and sparkling with character. The play is off, racing towards its frenetic and inevitable ending. The Government Inspector, a new realization of the David Harrower adaptation by director Roxana Silbert played at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre as the first leg of a national tour.
The quirky simplicity of the set is on view as the audience enters. There is a body on the floor. A man sits in a tower behind a phalanx of computer screens. The clock has hands that cannot tell the time. There are radar dishes and phonogram trumpets sprouting high into the air and brightly lit white against a blue background. Designer Ti Green supported with lighting by Chahine Yavroyan has encapsulated the essence of the piece before a word is spoken…and signed…and projected.
Each performance creatively includes the use of sign language, audio description and captioning. The touring production is an initiative of the Ramps on the Moon project and The Government Inspector is the first of their productions. The aim is to put deaf and disabled artists and audiences at the centre of their work. Fully accessible theatre such as this goes beyond providing wheelchair access and hearing loops. The show has been cast without reference to gender, age or physical attributes of any kind.
Written in 1836 by Nicolai Gogol, The Government Inspector is a commentary about communism, provincial corruption and, of course, human relationships. It’s a farce about a rural community put into chaos with the impending arrival of a government inspector whom the townsfolk fear will uncover their incompetency, both accidental and contrived.
The farcical element is encapsulated in a minor clerk who, in escaping from St Petersburg and penury, is mistaken for the inspector and feted by the townsfolk to incredible and comical extents. He is offered money by everyone in the town, he is seduced by the mayor’s wife and betrothed to his daughter. He quells an uprising of the shopkeepers. And then he runs out on them all – leaving the townsfolk to face the real government inspector.
Silbert has finely woven the large ensemble cast to dance through the superb design elements and compelling narrative of Harrower’s adaptation and the resulting cloth is a tour de force of the genre.
At the start of the play the volume of sensory input can be a little overwhelming as the audience fights to take in every element on offer. However this does settle because the performances are individually strong enough to cope.
David Carlyle plays The Mayor with a passion and energy born of ease and great skill. In the role of his wife, Anna, Kiruna Stamell is a forceful character with enormous sensual energy and easily dominates in her scenes.
Robin Morrissey is very effective in his role as Khlestakov, the visitor mistaken for the government inspector. By himself he is totally believable and charming as he taking advantage of every situation to the nth degree. The scenes between Morrissey and Michael Keane, playing his servant Osip, are a comic delight.
There are two Performer Interpreters, dressed fetchingly in porter costumes who interpret the bulk of the script in sign language. Becky Barry is most often on the floor of the stage standing close to the actor who is speaking. So entertaining is she that it’s sometimes difficult to tear attention away from her fluid, dance like movements.
Jean St Clair also signs in her role as the judge, with her speech translated to voice by the clerk of the court. It’s a twist that takes a little time to decipher but once understood it’s very clear and leads to a very funny scene with the ‘inspector’ when the two actors are left to communicate without interpretation.
This is a large company with eighteen listed cast members. The success of the performance is due to the strength of the individuals and to the cohesiveness of the ensemble.
It will be very interesting to see what the Ramps on the Moon project will produce to follow this shining and witty production. One thing is certain and that is that the fully accessible elements enrich the experience for cast and audience alike.