Incognito Theatre's production of Nikolai Gogol's Government Inspector at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a spectacular piece of theatre. Fringe attendees shouldn't miss the opportunity to see such a well-conceived production of the 1830s Russian satire.
Anna Simpson's impressive direction engages the audience at every moment. Actors Angus Doughty and Charlie MacVicar create quite the comedic duo while Dan Whitlam and Alex Maxwell also deliver spot-on performances. George Johh ties the show, and his castmates' acts together into one of the most exciting productions of the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe festival.
Too often young actors approach physically-based schools of theatre with the idea that the more you gesticulate, the better you are at movement. They often fail at reaching for the deeper well of understanding that is sought in the exercises of the physical discovery process, making for productions that are frequently painful to watch. For this reason, I tend to avoid experimetal, movement-based shows at festivals like the Fringe. I'm glad I didn't in this case, since the cast, under Simpson's imaginative direction, create deeply affecting, dream-like movement sequences that were central to the to the through-line of the show and demonstrate a true and disciplined study of physical theatre at its best.
Beyond the talented performers, this production of Government Inspector is a relevant piece of political satire. The play is about corrupt small town officials who mistake a particular man for a government inspector. Through the course of the play, the mistaken identity allows the stranger to take advantage of the corruption of the government officials for his own personal gain.
The 1830s was an era of political censorship in Russia, then one of the world's largest empires. Gogol, not entirely trusted by the government at the time, set out to satirize the immense Russian bureaucracy but focused on a small, unnamed town out of fear of censorship. To examine political corruption was risky for Gogol, making the play all the more impressive.
For a play about political corruption in the 1830s to ring true today is as damning to our political culture as it is a testament to the success of the production. Political corruption in western bureaucracies is unfortunately common, while the influence of money in politics consistently rears its ugly head. The UK's 2010 Cash for Influence and the U.S.'s Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals are prime examples of the type of political corruption Government Inspector satirizes. With the influx of corporate money and lack of spending limits in the U.S., Americans have been besieged by political corruption concerns. Current and former members of Congress including Michael Grimm, Rick Renzi, Tom Delay, Randy Cunningham, William Jefferson, Jim Traficant - among others -, have all been indicted or convicted of financial improprieties in recent years, and this inspired production of 180-year-old Russian play bears an eerie resemblance.
With Incognito Theatre's and Pleasance Theatre Trust's production of Government Inspector the audience can watch the period-specific political satire, be engaged in every moment of the play and understand how even old satire can be made fresh and relevant for today's audiences. That is a triumph for any production and something the entire team should be proud of.