“These bloody townspeople don’t deserve a town”
And so it begins.
Gogol’s masterpiece satire always has a bite to it; bureaucracy and corruption go hand in hand like Tories and sex scandals. But now, this month, this year; this exceptional production by Ramps On The Moon sinks its fangs into the jugular of 2016 and gives it a good hard kick up the arse.
Layers upon layer of meaning is added to this production with an integrated cast of deaf, disabled and non-disabled actors. It has become clear over the past few years with the work of Graeae and Mind The Gap, that the way forward for disability arts is to push all boundaries, and in doing so is creating a ground breaking multi-lingual theatre that is challenging and urgent.
In a play that holds up a grotesque mirror to status and oppression, we are given another reflection that runs alongside the main action. Continual signing by several actors is woven into the fabric of this production creating a physical, visual subtext throughout the play that is mesmerising to watch. Cast as servants, they mirror their masters, ignored, but continually translating and passing, at times, their own sly judgment and give us mocking, expressive impressions of the bosses and hilarious moments with hard to sign Russian names. However it feels bigger than that. It’s a layer of artifice that is being peeled away here that feels politically charged. A clear statement is being offered by this production about visibility and diversity through a play which satirises the maintenance of power. It’s not hard, then, to see why the Mayor and his cronies fall over themselves thinking they have discovered The Government Inspector before he arrives.
Khlestakov (Robin Morrisey, brilliantly neurotic) is white, posh and has a whiff of the Zac Goldsmith about him. Born to rule and all that. Khelstakov’s entitlement oozes out of every pore and Morrisey steps up to the part with ease. The Mayor ( David Carlyle, spectacularly sleazy) is the other side of the same coin. He takes his power and openly uses and abuses it at will. We laugh because he is outrageously coarse and the idea of “hosing down beggars”, “shipping out patients”, “getting rid of the teacher with the tic” before the inspection rings hilariously true. The laughs are loud and plenty throughout with strong comic performances from an outstanding cast directed by Roxanna Silbert with energy and pace. It’s seductive, like poverty porn (Khlestakov eagerly writes home to take the piss out of these vulgar provincial folk).
This production is too smart, to knowing to let it go on too long though, and we are woken up from all this hilarity abruptly. One of the local shop keepers is found and brought in to be punished for complaining about the Mayor. This production sends in Abdulin (Aaron Virdee), a Muslim: “You shit bag, shit, shit,” the Mayor spits and the captioning screen screams along, right above them too, you can’t miss it as it leaves a lingering taste in the eyes that stings. It’s s a sobering slap in the face, reminding us where we are, what’s really happening – and don’t forget that the white posh boy gets away with all the money.
The Government Inspector was on at the New Wolsey in Ipswich. For more of their programme, click here.