One of the world's great comedies. Briefly, a very badly-run provincial town in tsarist Russia is expecting a visit from a government inspector. A penniless aristocratic rake, Hlestakov, has lost his last farthing at cards. On his way to his father's estate he stops in the town and puts up in the inn, although he has no money to pay the bill. He is mistaken for the promised inspector. The Mayor and other town officials fête him, lionise him, bribe him outrageously while denouncing each other to him. Hlestakov revels in all this, flirts with the Mayor's wife and daughter (on the settee in the photo), and has a high old time until he judges he can't push his luck any further. He leaves. Shortly afterwards the postmaster Shpyokin intercepts a letter from Hlestakov to a friend in St Petersburg in which he reveals all. The town officials round on each other. At the height of their angry recriminations the real Government Inspector is announced.
It was an all boys' school, meaning that female parts had to be played by boys. This may have been in the best Shakespearean tradition, but for us teenage actors it presented certain problems. Least of these was the inescapable rustling of bosoms stuffed with tissue paper. Tissue paper bosoms don't return to their original shape after being rudely squeezed by impious hands; more fluffed-up tissue paper has to be stuffed down the bodice. A greater problem was that of falling in love. Gogol's script may have required Hlestakov to pretend to fall in love with Marya Antonovna, the mayor's daughter, in order to draw the maximum advantage out of the situation, but little did our Hlestakov know he had other real-time rivals actually on stage or in the wings. I'm in this photo, but I neither played Marya Antonovna nor fell in love with 'her'.
Off-stage, 'she' was the first person I ever went to into a pub with. Not in costume, of course. In my naïveté I ordered a glass of Liebfraumilch. It's not easy, growing up.
Girl and a Birdcage c.1929
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