'So I say to Petr Ivanovich, That fella's got the look of a cute hoor, and Petr Ivanovich calls over Vlas the innkeeper - you know Vlas, his wife just had the babby there three weeks ago; a fine lad he is, he'll be an innkeeper like his daddy - and he says to Vlas, quiet like, he says, Vlas, who's yer man? And Vlas says to us, He's a civil servant, down from St Petersburg'.
It's Bobchinskii speaking, but not quite as we know him; this is Bobchinskii by way of Borris-in-Ossory, in Gogol's The Government Inspector 'utterly – and often delightfully – steeped in Irish demotic speech' by Roddy Doyle in a new adaptation for Dublin's Abbey Theatre. That line about demotic Hiberno-English is probably the only nice remark made by Fintan O'Toole in his scathing review of the production in the Irish Times (which I would largely endorse, although the quality of the acting is much better than he suggests).
|The playwright, papped during the interval by the Dinosaur, smiles benignly|
|Osip on his master's bed|
Both O'Toole and Doyle miss the main point about Revizor, to restore its original title. Gogol would have 'eaten the face off' Roddy Doyle, were he to see the Abbey production, for compounding a misconception that has haunted its author. This play is not about systemic corruption, and it is emphatically not about specific governments; Gogol reacted to the near-universal misunderstanding of his play as daring satire by leaving for Europe. Gogol's writing always suggests much stranger things about human nature than can be contained in any political continuum. In this downloadable article in Scando-Slavica, Jostein Bortnes argues that Revizor is about the inescapability of human evil: Khlestakov is 'a living symbol of evil' which Gogol conjures 'in order to destroy it by laughter'. Khlestakov's escape, followed by the sinister, suspended presence of the real Inspector during the famous dumb scene, allows evil to transcend the limitations of the narrative. Gogol's genie gets out of its bottle, and into the audience - who are we laughing at, after all?
Clearly, Revizor is a play capable of working brilliantly in international contexts. But the contextualization should be carried through completely, if it is to be effected at all. Localizing Gogol kills the universality of his portrait of evil; but if the play must be localized, then give us names and places. Turn Pushkin into Flann O'Brien; turn Baron Brambeus into Joseph O'Connor; and turn Anna Andreevna into Maureen O'Flaherty, since the actors aren't going to get the stress right anyway. Set the whole thing in Kiltimagh for authenticity!
Good man yourself.
|That fella's gas altogether....|