In this production of Nikolai Gogol’s satirical masterpiece, Sedos, ‘The City of London’s premier amateur theatre company,’ have forwarded the action a hundred years to 1970s Russia, complete will eye-blistering florals and trousers of unusual shape.
It's also a joy to see an ensemble without a lead. All five actors certainly have their fifteen minutes, but as a unit they work superbly well together.
It’s a setting that works well. The lack of self-awareness and clueless arrogance satirised in Gogol’s world is reflected brilliantly by some of the horrors of 70s fashion. Extravagant shirts with matching ties, hideous tweed, turquoise, silk scarves in every pocket. What were they thinking? Costume designer Edith Webb does a wonderful job in carefully arranged clashing colours and awkward tailoring. The costume design not only defines the aesthetic of the time but also supports the play’s intellectual structure. It’s not often I find myself as intrigued by the costumes as the actors themselves.
But the actors are very good too. Quick-fire exchanges are quick and fiery; when an actor is alone onstage the space is controlled and we are teased along. Benjamin Press’ Khlestakov is particularly impressive, his sardonic slipperiness recalling Kenneth Williams and providing the finest comic moments of the production. Will de Rezny-Martin and Christopher Warren, doing their Tweedledee and Tweedledum turn as the bumbling Dob- and Bob-Chinsky, also provided laughs in almost their every line.
If in doubt, use a door with wheels. It’s a simple way to provide the illusion of characters moving quickly between rooms with different layouts. It also nicely contributes to the dream-like quality of Gogol’s text, in which scenes often mirror each other in ways that are almost surreal. Crispin Thomas’ set design and Zoe Thomas-Webb’s direction utilise this all-purpose prop very well in terms of its contribution to the action. However, because of the thrust stage there were occasions in which not all angles were accounted for: sometimes key characters were obscured from a third of the audience.
That’s perhaps the sort of pernickety point a po-faced government inspector might make about a play, but with so much else so good in this production, small problems like this make an impression. The Government Inspector is the sort of play you watch and think, ‘How was this written nearly two hundred years ago?’ Sedos, with intelligent design and energetic performances, keep the satire fresh without distracting too much from its serious core.