If, as Bakhtin and Shakespeare both claimed, society is a theatre, then Schlusser’s society was one in which the enduring conventions were deliberately arbitrary, shifting from moment to moment, and never entirely relied upon. Often it felt as if we were at a light-hearted “event” rather than a “play” per se, or possibly a free-form (yet well-rehearsed) reading.
Partly because it’s a fundamental convention that sex and gender are essentially immutable social realities, I found the forceful inversion of these rules especially satisfying. Stephen Clements, after standing with his deep cheeks sucking in and out, doffed his helmet-like fur cap and stepped from his coat to reveal his impressive, long, stockinged legs and a fashionably spiked shock of silver hair which would not have been out of place among either the cashed-up dames of Melbourne’s haute shopping strips, or at a Les Girls review—from nervous, corrupt provincial judge to wife of a local petty worthy, in one deft transition.
Schlusser recorded in the program notes that the show’s dramaturgy was based upon “‘theatre crimes’...counter-intuitive responses” such as “to upstage your fellow actor” or “ignore the audience and each other.” Amid all of this artful chaos, it was largely the actors’ commitment to the text—as well as to a common sense of fun and mischief—that ensured things did not fall completely apart. Schlusser staged Gogol’s script unedited, causing the show to run at 3 hours, so the audience returning after interval was notably smaller than before. Although this was frankly over-taxing, it did mean the 4th wall between actor and spectator was annihilated, both having experienced a theatrical auto-da-fe of endurance. By packing so many ideas and so much performative freedom and plasticity into a single production, Schlusser’s reach did somewhat exceed his grasp, but The Government Inspector was more impressive because of its massively conceited excesses.
Nikolai Gogol, The Government Inspector, Hoist Theatre Co., Melbourne, July 10-27
RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 10
© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to email@example.com