Monday, 7 December 2009

Dressing-up chests

This is a scene from Nicolai Gogol's The Government Inspector.

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.


Vicus Scurra said...

I have heard that it is not easy to grow up. I have never tried.

Christopher said...

Don't try, Vicus. You would only regret it.

Dave said...

I, of course, spotted you in the photo immediately. You've not changed a bit.

I, Like The View said...

this reminds me of all the times that I was taken to see G&S at my big brother's school

funnily enough, I was at an all girls' school for a while and in one play I was a Louis (can't remember which number, around the time of Joan of Arc possibly)(or possibly not)

just so as you know, it's not only teenage boys who stuff their bras. . . some middle-aged women do too

are you still in touch with your friend?

Christopher said...

I knew you would, Dave. Once a 6ft Scot, always a 6ft Scot. Easy-peasy.

I,LTV: G&S was always fertile ground for backstage affairs. HMS Pinafore probably comes top of the bill.

Middle-aged women stuff their bras? Little Buttercups, as you might say? H'm. I'll take your word for it, but none known to me ever have.

My early drinking pal and I stayed in sporadic touch for some years after leaving school. He gave me an LP of the Brahms F minor piano quintet for a wedding present first time round. I'm afraid I've lost touch with him since, but not because of that.

UberGrumpy said...

You'd never get way with it now. The bosoms would have to be stuffed with fibreglass, and each one would need a small fire extinguisher and a public health warning.

Z said...

I once went to see a performance of The Government Inspector at the Theatre Royal in Norwich. It had a famous actor in it whose name I can't remember at present, who turned out to be rather past his prime. At the interval, my mother said "shall we leave?" "It can't get worse, let's see it out," I said optimistically.

I learned that evening that sometimes it's better to cut your losses.

My copy of Dead Souls was accidentally stolen from Lowestoft Borough Library.

Dave said...

It was the flaming red beard that gave it away.

Christopher said...

UG. I know. The nanny state just breastfeeds us all.

Z. Quite understand. The greatest comedies are so often direly unfunny. Merry Wives of Windsor, Lysistrata, anything by GB Shaw and something else I thought of this morning but have forgotten now. Could it have been Gammer Gurton's Needle?

How can something be stolen by accident? And how did one of your own books end up in a public library? I think the truth needs to be told.

Dave: I've shaved it off now. Much too conspicuous. I might have been taken for Robin Cook.

Z said...

i should have said *my*. The copy in my possession. However, the books I remember from my time working at the library have long since been banished, including splendid old editions of Kipling,innocently swastikaed as they were, so I feel I rescued it. I borrowed it legitimately, albeit unofficially, and found it on a shelf a couple of years later. Since, by then, I was married with a baby and pregnant, I didn't quite have time to go back and confess. Good book though.