SIMON Stone’s coming production of “The Government Inspector” is the first of his shows to be seen in front of Canberra audiences, though it’s not actually Nikolai Gogol’s classic comedy.Saying he’s been “inspired” by Gogol, Stone is known for variously delighting audiences and infuriating playwrights with his reworked versions of the classics and admits that this is “the furthest” away from the original texts that he’s ever gone. Happily, Gogol died more than 160 years ago, and isn’t around like those pesky contemporary playwrights.
“It’s not really ‘The Government Inspector’,” Stone confirms, explaining that it relates to the play in its concerns with fakery and stealing other people’s ideas. As well, he’s seized on Gogol’s biting satire and madcap surrealism.
Stone devised the play with his co-writer Emily Barclay and a cast that had already been hired for “the Philadelphia Story”, which was dropped when the rights fell through. But he knew that his six actors, Fayssal Bazzi, Mitchell Butel, Gareth Davies, Robert Menzies, Zahra Newman, Eryn Jean Norvill and Greg Stone, could do comedy.
Here’s Stone’s premise: an ensemble of actors is presented with a play they were never supposed to perform. Can they get the show ready in time for opening night? Must they go to the trouble of learning new lines and a Russian accent? Will all the actors survive the rehearsal period? And who is the star director brought in from St Petersburg?
“It’s completely implausible and completely ridiculous,” Stone says, but he guarantees audiences will get their money’s worth because his “Government Inspector” is three shows in one – a play, a troupe of actors trying to rehearse it and a short musical at the end by Stefan Gregory.
“The principle is just entertainment.”
Accused by some playwrights of doing them out of a job, he characteristically uses the work of dead playwrights and aroused the ire of the Arthur Miller estate after changing the ending of “Death of a Salesman”.
Gogol’s play has been in the standard repertoire around the world since being written in the 1830s. A layabout arrives in a provincial town and is mistaken for a senior official in the Czarist government. Everybody bends over backwards to please him until the deception is discovered. It criticises foolishness and graft as effectively as any ICAC hearing.
Stone is game to adopt the title – it’s so famous. Dostoevsky once played the postmaster, Stanislavsky directed it, Danny Kaye made a movie of it, “Fawlty Towers” pinched an episode plot from it, it’s been adapted by both the Indonesians and the Taiwanese as a comment on their own bureaucracies and it was adapted and re-translated by former ANU lecturer Roger Pulvers for two actors, and staged by Bell Shakespeare. I’ve even directed it.
“The Government Inspector”, The Playhouse, 8pm, May 28-31, bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.