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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Government Inspector
Young Vic Theatre   Summer 2011

Recently, in reviewing the National Theatre's One Man Two Guvnors, I noted that messing around with a classic was risky business. 

Richard Jones's attempts to add visual humour to Gogol's rather talky comedy (here in a version by David Harrower) score about as often as they misfire, but that's not a good enough average. 

While you will find a lot to laugh at here, it's the dead patches that are likely to dominate in your memory. 

Gogol's fairly heavy-handed satire shows the corrupt officials of a provincial town mistaking a visitor for a government official and tripping over themselves trying to impress and bribe him. The guy happily takes what's offered so freely, and then leaves them to discover the truth. 

Gogol's characters are imagined as near-cartoons, and it is natural for costumer Nicky Gillibrand to dress them as such and for director Jones to encourage broad playing. But the results are inconsistent, one character looking fairly normal while the person next to him is an escapee from a comic strip, one actor playing at a panto level while another is more subdued. 

While some scenes work brilliantly, too many others give the effect of a talented director and actors who are not natural clowns working very hard at the task of being funny, and that of course is death to comedy. 

A scene in which the impoverished visitor played by Kyle Soller tries to enjoy a meagre and terrible meal should be textbook comedy, but the actor and director just can't get the rhythm and pacing right. 

On the other hand, a later scene in which the town officials queue up to throw money at the supposed inspector is perfectly choreographed, and a lot of fun. 

The playing of the cast is also uneven. Perhaps the one natural clown in the group, Julian Barratt makes the mayor a delightful study in mounting panic, while Kyle Soller is more at ease with verbal comedy than physical. 

Doon Mackichan plays the mayor's wife as a pure cartoon from start to finish and is very funny, though she too frequently seems to be inhabiting a different reality from everyone else. No one else in the large cast really registers.

Generally speaking, director Jones is least successful when playwright Gogol gives him least to work with. The first act ends with a long, almost completely verbal scene in which the visitor, carried away with drink and the sound of his own voice, accepts the role they've cast him in and spins out long and elaborate lies.

Jones tries to give Soller and the other actors something to do while he's talking, and can't come up with much. At other points he inserts incongruous flashes of nightmarish expressionism that seem to come out of some other production.

There is, altogether, perhaps a half-hour of really inspired comedy in this production, but that's not quite enough to carry the evening.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Government Inspector - Young Vic 2011

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