The Government Inspector at The Abbey Theatre
October 24, 2013
Much like the country we know it to satirise, The Abbey Theatre’s Christmas show, The Government Inspector, is brought to its knees by one too many brown envelopes, the verbal and visual gag unleashed with regularity by Roddy Doyle, (with all the subtlety of a whoopee cushion) in his translation of the Nikolai Gogol play. Paired with its overly pointed pops at our political powers that be and the habitual, phone in performances, it serves to underline the all ready obvious resonance within the text and to hell with anything else.
The Mayor (Don Wycherley) of a backwater cesspool and his cabinet of cronies, thick as pig shit but twice as potent, are in a flap after receiving word that a Government Inspector may, or may not, have descended upon the town. His job is to weed out the corruption that stems from the lowly merchants to the Mayor himself and with growing alarm they realise their chickens have come home to roost and no amount of clucking is going to get their shed in order.
Meanwhile, across town, a preening civil servant, Khlestakov (Ciaran O Brien) and his man Friday, Osip (Joe Hanley) has had their breadline cut off thanks to Khlestakov ‘s incessant gambling. He is refusing to pay and refusing to leave, causing Dobchinsky (Peter Daly) and Bobchinsky (Mark Doherty), a pair of prattling landowners, to surmise that he is the aforementioned inspector. Thanks to a comedy of errors Khlestakov gains access to the coffers of the town, tricking the corrupt townsfolk into throwing more money after bad before absconding with their fastest horses, given free passage by folk who have bent over backwards and gotten royally-and deservedly, “fucked”.
The Irish love to take the mick out of themselves and there are plenty of laughs to be had at our expense here, with no cheap shot left unflung. But Director Jimmy Fay has his cast hammer the unsubtle humor into the audience in a most disingenuous fashion so that it is habit, not mirth that charges the signposted chuckles. There is little acknowledgement of the dark underbelly, the violence, repression and utter sense of powerless that stems from corruption. And when there is, such as in the scene where Khlestakov discovers the human cost of the Mayor’s behavior, the shift in tone doesn’t work as there is a failure across the board to strike a balance between the natural and the grotesque and this flaccid direction means that the story is never sobering or thought provoking. It settles for cheap rewards, easily won and quickly forgotten.
Wycherley is fast becoming the Abbey’s Twink, falling back on his raspy, ra-ta-tat delivery and familiar and much loved mannerisms as a substitute for character while Marion O Dwyer, who has in the past truly affected me, as his tart minus heart Mrs., makes no discoveries here. She knows how to milk an audience so she spends her energy pulling faces and breaking decibels rather than taking us on the journey. It’s like she hasn’t been pushed.
O Brien, another proven talent, gets stuck behind a Ross O Carroll Kelly brogue, an affliction he never quite recovers from. He never pushes past it, never seems sure of himself and the lack of investment means his caricature ultimately fails.
With the exception of Claire Barrett’s almost wordless support as Acdotya- and to a lesser extent Rory Nolan’s Commissioner, Damien Kearney’s Postmaster and Hanley as Osip, there is little reward gleaned from the almost three hour running time.
This, in part, is thanks to the length of the scenes and exchanges. But mainly it’s the blunting of bite with half-hearted buffoonery, that lets the audience off the hook.