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Review: Six Lips Theatre, The Government Inspector, Friargate Theatre, York
THIS is the first Six Lips Theatre show your reviewer has witnessed since their internship days in The Basement at Bar Lane Studios in April last year.
The strides made since those subterranean, post-York St John University days by Anna Rose James, Roxanna Klimaszewska and Hannah Wallace’s company have been gathering pace, especially with the ambitious, audacious, collaborative Six Plays In Six Months project that has culminated in the entirely self-made “milestone show” The Government Inspector.
Well, Russian playwright Gogol had a hand in it, obviously, but so too have Klimaszewska and co-director Wallace.
Two months of preparation has gone into “everything you see, hear and touch being hand-made specifically for the show” with design input from all the cast, as well as Wallace in her capacity as set designer, and costume designer Jenny Draper.
Building on the experimental nature of the company’s working methods, the cast members have each made their own animal-inspired masks, while clothes have been dyed, tailored and customised and furniture recycled and painted. A new score has been written by Karl Jenkins, new instruments learned and physical theatre techniques have been passed from member to member.
All this creative energy makes for an ensemble piece with a collective zeal for commedia dell'arte, further emphasised by the company staying in character during the interval and at the end. They never leave the Friargate Theatre auditorium, changing costumes and masks in the corners, picking musical instruments off hooks, even sitting in the front row. It all adds to the sense of everyone, actors, actor-musicians, and audience being in this together.
Gogol’s play is a satirical comedy for any political age, wherein a backwater Russian town learns that a government inspector is on his way, threatening to expose their corrupt business practices, from the Mayor (Nigel Smith) downwards.
Enter the dandy-coated Khlestakov (Andy Curry), who capitalises through bravado and chutzpah on being mistaken for the inspector, gallivanting around town on the ultimate freebie trip with the aid of his sidekick Osip (Anna Rose James) as everyone does everything to cover up more than their faces with bribes or fragrant feminine wiles. Yet, as with the masks exaggerating their characteristics, so their true venal nature will come out.
Curry is as electric as ever on stage, having as much fun as you could have in his trickster role, while Anna Rose James is outstanding in a quartet of contrasting cameos, both male and female.
Smith’s Mayor, Rebecca Thomson’s Anna, Gemma Sharp’s Maria and Klimaszewska and Rachel Price’s comedic double act, Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky, all bring amusing physicality and vocal playfulness to their performances.
One tip to Six Lips after the exuberant, slightly indulgent press night would have been to cut the excessive three-hour running time. This has since happened anyway, half an hour now shaved off for the wham-bam comedy to be quicker and sharper to go with the already winning boldness.
• Six Lips Theatre, The Government Inspector, Friargate Theatre, York, Friday to Sunday, 7.30pm, plus Saturday matinee, 2.30pm. Box office: 01904 613000 or ridinglights.org or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
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