The Government Inspector

The prolific Simon Stone celebrates the art of theatre in his new play to open The Malthouse Theatre’s 2014 season.

Twenty-nine year old Simon Stone has been hailed as the ‘boy genius’ of the theatre world. Over the last four years, he has been incredibly prolific and this week is no different. “I just had a premiere on Saturday night in Germany for Oresteia,” he tells me. “I left the morning after the premiere and then started rehearsals in Australia the day after I got off the plane.”

He has ducked out from those rehearsals to talk to me. However, the clatter and chatter continues behind him in preparation for the opening of The Government Inspector, an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 satirical play of the same name. Stone has made a career out of re-working classic plays. “It really comes down to how distant the thing is,” he tells me. “When it comes to the point when something really is quite distant, there’s a need to make it connect to the audience in a contemporary way. It’s the burning need to tell a story that I recognise in a classic play, as a reflection of the world that’s going on around me. The choice of material really just comes down to what mythology I want to explore.

“Often the way I rewrite these stories is I restructure them or I find a new form for them first. More often than not, I am trying to find a language that is recognisable in the everyday. So the audience sees themselves on stage.”

Gogol’s version of The Government Inspector is about a corrupt town that mistakes a visiting civil servant for a government inspector coming to check up on them. Knowing the history, the choice of play is quite inspired. Stone had originally begun work on The Philadelphia Story until the rights fell through at the last minute.

“I decided actually that the best show to make was one that was inspired by circumstances and could be a celebration of the theatre’s ability to endure anything and the concept of the show going on,” he tells me. “We are basically creating a show about a group of actors who are suddenly left in a situation where they have no show to put on and they need to invent a piece of theatre in a very short period of time.

“They come upon this very brilliant idea of doing a version of The Government Inspector but unbeknownst to them the famous European director that they’ve hired is actually an unemployed actor who was turning up hoping for an audition. So the plot ends up mirroring the plot of The Government Inspector and also echoing the genre and the notions of The Philadelphia Story, which is the show they wanted to do in the first place.

“I have one of the best acting ensembles that I could possibly have for this show, so that’s a great security blanket,” Stone tells me breezily, as I ask him about his confidence under such tight time pressure. “It’s completely silly and one of the silliest things I’ve ever done. It’s just there for the delight of the audience and as an opportunity to reflect on what it is that we do when we come to the theatre and what it is that we do when we make theatre. It’s a celebration of the joy of entertainment.”

The hectic nature of the creation of this piece seems apt, as it will mark the end of Stone’s last few years of constant work. He will be taking six months off and then will be taking his talents abroad.

“Over the next two years I’m working a lot in Europe and my schedule is pretty full of shows in Europe. I grew up there as well so having a chance to work where I grew up has a sense of homecoming to me, which is wonderful. Of course, it’s just a phase of my life. I hope to God I can be here on a regular basis again because Australia is one of the most extraordinary places to live and work in the world.”

The Government Inspector will open Malthouse Theatre’s 2014 season with performances from February 28 to March 23.

Photos by Brett Boardman



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