Following on from last year’s success, the Univ Players this year have chosen Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector as their annual Garden Play. The play itself is a classic comedy of errors: the corrupt bureaucrats of a provincial Russian town learn that an incognito government inspector is due to arrive in town. In the rush to identify the esteemed visitor, Ivan Alexandrovich Khlestakov, a lowly civil servant with a disproportionate sense of his own importance and entitlement, gets mistaken for the inspector and is consequently wooed and bribed by officials who are keen to protect their own interests and ensure their indemnity; as may be expected, mayhem and comic misunderstandings ensue. This satire on human greed, sycophancy and corruption is witty and entertaining, and the characters are all delightfully unsympathetic. The acting is polished and the cast display excellent comedic timing, in particular the two leads, Felix Legge and James Skinner. The actors seem to have a great rapport and even at the preview – at 11 am on a somewhat gloomy Sunday – the atmosphere was relaxed, friendly and infectiously fun.
The director, Jack Peters, says he thought about putting a modern twist on the play, but in the end decided this was unnecessary: “I wanted to let it speak for itself”. Although I can’t claim to have much authority on the matter, I would say he made the right decision: performed in the lovely setting of University College’s Master’s Garden, with great acting and period costumes, this is one of those fabulous traditional events that Oxford does so well. To top it all off, I am assured that refreshments and picnic blankets will be available. What more could you ask for? An excellent way to take a break from work and revision and make the most of the pleasures Oxford has to offer in the summertime.