ROLE REVERSAL: Women play men and men play women in the Regional Institute of Performing Arts’ The Government Inspector. SOME things never change, as the actors in the Regional Institute of Performing Arts’ production of the classic comedy The Government Inspector have discovered.
The Government Inspector, written in 1836 by Nikolai Gogol, looks at the panic of corrupt officials in a Russian provincial town when they learn that a government inspector is coming to investigate them.
When one official notes that a free-spending young man and his servant have recently moved into a suite at the town hotel, the mayor and other officials call on the visitor, thinking the government inspector has arrived incognito to try to catch them out.
The young man, who is actually a minor government clerk on a gambling binge trip, is happy to receive the money they offer him. And when he finds out why they are being so generous, he holds out his hand for even more of their cash.
The Government Inspector, which features the second-year acting students at Hunter TAFE’s RIPA, will be staged at Newcastle’s Civic Playhouse from March 21 to 24.
Director David Brown, while maintaining the 19th-century period, has set the action in colonial NSW.
An early NSW setting enables the fear of the corrupt officials that they will be sent to prison camps in Siberia to incorporate the Norfolk Island outpost that was home to the most incalcitrant convicts.
The cast members of the RIPA production, mindful of such things as the current Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation of alleged exchanges of money over coalmine leases, certainly have no difficulty in taking the comic treatment of corruption issues on board.
Where they are facing challenges is in performing their characters. With a cast of predominantly male characters and an acting corps that is predominantly female, David Brown has his actors mainly playing characters of the opposite sex.
As Andrew Rogers, who plays the mayor’s wife, notes, this really places demands on the actors’ skills.
‘‘I’ve been wanting to use a rough Australian accent for some time. But now that I’m doing it, I also have to walk like a woman while being mannish from the waist up,’’ he said.
The mayor’s wife, fed up with being neglected by her husband and jealous of the attention men pay to her daughter (played by Jack Gow), decides to make the most of the situation, fluttering her eyelashes at the young clerk as she attempts to seduce him.
April Maguire, as the mayor, said the more the actors rehearsed the play, the funnier it had become.
‘‘In the opening scene, the nervous mayor tells his colleagues, who include a police superintendent, judge, school director, postmaster and charity commissioner, that they, like him, are corrupt, and will have to do even more corrupt things to get them out of the situation,’’ she said.
Rachel Davies, who is playing the young man mistaken for the inspector, said that when he wakes up to what is going on, he puts together an elaborate story to further prod the officials to put their hands in their pockets and those of the people they have been robbing for years.
The Government Inspector, unsurprisingly, was based on real events. When Gogol, a master of short stories, was looking for a subject for a play, fellow writer Alexander Pushkin told him he had once been mistaken for a government inspector in a small town. Government officials tried to prevent the play from being staged and published.
The RIPA cast also includes Lauren Steggles, Erin Sattler, Stephanie McDonald, Tina Cornac, Belinda Hodgson, Stephanie Cunliffe-Jones, Tayla Choice, Tara Gallop-Brennan, James Chapman, Sean Hixon, Hannah Buck and Carmen Ormeno Vittoriano.
The Government Inspector can be seen at the Civic Playhouse nightly at 7.30pm from Thursday, March 21, to Saturday, March 23, plus 5pm on Sunday, March 24. Tickets: $22, concession $18. Bookings: Civic Ticketek, 49291977.