The days when Uncle Charlie might find a job for a relatively distant cousin, or council contracts might be mutually resolved at the bar of The Freemasons’ Arms may pretty much have been consigned to history, but fraud and corruption are actually part of our social system, with UK businesses and organisations losing over £100 billion a year due to fraud and financial incompetence, according to the University of Portsmouth’s Centre for Counter Fraud Studies.
The Express and Star has also reported that criminal gangs have masterminded thousands of cash-for-crash cons, making the West Midlands the worst area in the country for this kind of crime. The net result is a cost to every household in the country of about £6 000, paid in higher taxes, higher council taxes and higher prices. So Gogol’s satire on Russian provincial corruption has some resonance today.
While much of the story was effectively communicated this David Harrower adaptation and Roxana Silbert production perhaps lacked the necessary satirical stiletto and some of the play’s more farcical elements seem to have been glossed over.
That is not to say that this is not a brilliant production in many ways. Birmingham REP has worked with Ramps on the Moon with the aim of putting deaf and disabled artists and audiences at the centre of their programmes.
There are cast members who are profoundly deaf and others who are physically disabled. And there were many in the audience with various degrees of disability. To help both actors and audience the play was performed with the help of sign-language. Usually this is done at the side of the stage, but in this production the signers are costumed and very much part of the action. There was also a screen which projected the words the actors were saying, and even little captions to indicate what kind of music was being played.
Robin Morrissey plays Khlestakov, the low-grade, but obviously well-educated, clerk from St Petersburg who ends up in a remote Russian provincial town beyond the back of beyond and has lost all his money in a disastrous game of cards.
However, he is mistaken for a government inspector and the towns corrupt officials try to win his approval. Not a difficult task, once he realises that they are willing to provide him with loans.
David Carlyle, as the Mayor, tries to keep his officials in line in a desperate dike-plugging exercise, while his wife Anna, superbly played by Kiruna Stamell, and daughter Maria, in a very lively performance by Francesca Mills, vie for the attention of the St Petersburg sophisticate.
Michael Keane makes the role of Osip, Khlestakov’s servant, a very humorous portrayal, reflecting the master-servant relationship of the early 19th Century.
There was a reference to “We’re all in it together,” but the current political climate does provide opportunities for political comment without impinging on the integrity of the play.
Runs until March 26th
By Jerald Smith