Review by Kelly J Clark – Showbill.ca Writer
March 11, 2017
The Phoenix’s production may not be Gogol’s masterpiece, it is an enjoyable time due to the hard work of an exceptionally well chosen cast.
The Inspector is an adaptation of Nikolay Gogol’s The Government Inspector, a satire of the corruption rampant in 19th century Russia that focuses on a group of city elites who get their comeuppance when they mistake a lofty civil servant for an inspector from the government.
Every performance in The Inspector is good. With a cast of nineteen, this in itself is a laudable act, but the performance of Aiden Dunsmuir as the mayor is particularly noteworthy. Dunsmuir has comic timing beyond his years that evokes the best of The Kids in the Hall. It’s hard to believe he’s only a third-year student in UVic’s theatre department. The rest of the cast is incredibly charismatic as well, but there are a few small musical numbers where the singers seemed to hold back, like wallflowers dragged to karaoke night. Their singing and performances are good, but they’d have been fantastic had they just let go and belted out the lyrics instead.
The Phoenix’s productions always look fantastic and this is no exception. Set designer Delaney Tesch fantastically recreates Victoria’s posh smugness in cringeworthy relief. The set changes are frequent, but well coordinated and entertaining on their own. The effect is completed by the Barbara Clerihue and Hana Ruzesky-Bashford’s costumes, which are the icing on this soggy rain-coast cake.
While the show’s comic timing is, for the most part, on point. The dialogue is dense with tongue-in-cheek references to new stories that end up playing a zero-sum game with the audience’s involvement. The play relies too much on these references to make its jokes for it and many that were topical during the writing are now outdated. For example, a major plot in the story revolves around the Victoria tent city but, having been disassembled in August, the reference feels old and reflectionist to revisit over half a year later.
On a strange note, however, the city elites speak with an affected accent on their ‘t’s that divides every word containing one into multiple syllables. It’s an odd element of the comic timing that slips up on you, but upon notice becomes incredibly distracting to the point that it pulls you from the production with a wince, sometimes multiple times per line of dialogue.
The cast is directed beautifully by Linda Hardy, but her adaptation of Gogol’s play causes more problems than not. As stated before, Nikolay Gogol’s original play was a burning satire of Russian politics, but this interpretation lacks teeth. It strips down the focus on corruption, perhaps for greater levity or perhaps for fear of offending any mayors or city elites in real-life Victoria.
The dulled bite kills the original’s tension and makes the production feel over long. The introduction of cartoonish elements, such as a chase scene using a Freleng Door Gag (also know as “Scooby-Doo Doors”), simply doesn’t work. By scaling the humour back to light-hearted farce, it accidentally eliminates the drama and emotional payoff gained from the mayor’s downfall. In doing this, the resolution is wholly without stakes.
The Bottom Line
Overall, the The Inspector is a well acted, yet uneven production with a charismatic cast that will win you despite the play’s flaws.