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FRINGE '04 REVIEW: The Auditor

Dr Dapertutto’s play ‘Auditor!!!’ begins with one of the most promising dramatic scenes of the 2004 Fringe Festival - and ends in frustration more than three and a half hours later.

The Auditor: Size Does Matter

Two stars = bearable
Reviewed by Nicola Hill

Where: Studio 77, Fairlie Terrace
When: February 24 – March 13 2004

Dr Dapertutto’s play ‘Auditor!!!’ begins with one of the most promising dramatic scenes of the 2004 Fringe Festival - and ends in frustration more than three and a half hours later. The great, wobbling self-indulgence of the script of this play is matched only by the bloodymindedness of the director James Sutherland and the sheer heroism of the sixteen actors.

Based on the nineteenth century Russian masterpiece ‘The Government Inspector’ by Gogol, ‘Auditor!!!’ is a sometimes wonderful satire of a “pissy little town and a pissy little Council” somewhere in the middle of the North Island in the early eighties. The happiness of the townspeople is shattered when they hear that an auditor from Wellington is about to inspect them - incognito. Mistakenly assuming that Lee, an itinerant stranger staying at the local hotel, is the auditor, the townspeople lavish him with their attention and progressively degrade themselves with bribes, confessions and sexual favours. Lee plays them for all they are worth, believing that “you’ve got to be the person you believe you can be.”

The adaption of Gogol’s play to the New Zealand context by John Downie is a mixed success. It was always going to be a stretch to translate with equal force a story of the monolithic bureaucracy of the Russian tsarist system into the culture of the ‘second-least-corrupt-country-in-the-world’. For those awake at the end of this theatrical marathon, it is impossible not to conclude that clamping down on the kiwi country cuzzies is a good thing indeed. Yet there is counter-current in the play protesting against the eighties reforms and the mantra of ‘accountability’, and this seems more the product of the ideological tic of the scriptwriter than narrative logic. (Gogol, in fact, embraced the system.) The message that “we all take advantage sometimes” gets lost and only the capitalists get pinged.

But the play does often succeed, and in doing so it represents a rare opportunity to experience the theatre of the grotesque. The opening scene is a tour de force that brings together all the strengths of Sutherland’s ambitious production – break-neck pace, hilarious colloquial dialogue, ingenious costume design, high impact choreography, multi-media effects, and impressive ensemble acting. Mayor Blowensuck (Michael Ness) and his Councillors give committed and engaging performances throughout. Perpetually startled shopkeepers and “dodgy jokers” Dobson (Jonny Moffat) and Robson (Simon Smith) electrify the stage and fully explore the bounds of the grotesque, always reviving the flagging audience. The women actors appear less confident.

The fact remains, however, that great swathes of the plot and dialogue of this play are unnecessary. The collaborative process of developing this work appears to have had the side effect of making every character speak too often. One whole central character - Gonzales, Lee’s sidekick and (would you believe?) a South American drug dealer – blows in from a Quentin Tarantino movie and is both out of context and irrelevant (notwithstanding the admirable energy and talents of the actor). The last half of the play descends into random gripes at current New Zealand politics that are, well, boring. “How long before we get the message?” exhorts the Mayor at the very end. The audience exchanged mischievous looks. We got it quite some time ago. Can we go home now?

‘The Auditor!!!’ is not recommended until it is an hour and a half shorter. Under that scenario, the play would be worth a couple more stars and recommended for those who enjoy theatre that is larger than life.


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