Rehearsal pics of Ben Whishaw in Hamlet, Old Vic 2004
The good half of Chicken Soup with Barley

Young Vic turns its hand to farce: Government Inspector

Government-Inspector--007 More farce in London, this time it's the Young Vic's turn with David Harrower's version of the 19th-century, Nicolai Gogol play, Government Inspector.

Julian Barratt of Mighty Boosh-fame makes his stage-debut as the small town Mayor in back of beyond Russia. It is a simple set up. News arrives that a government inspector is to visit the town incognito which sends the bureaucrats into a frenzy of efficiency and clean-up. When the inspector is wrongly identified as a traveller passing through, it exposes exactly the sort of underhand activity the town's bigwigs are desperate to hide.

The story is generously populated with many of the cast members doubling up - all are caricatures and dressed in pantomime-worthy costumes. The set and production design has the feel of a Russian-influenced 80's sit-com gone bad complete with a mechanical furry friend running along the picture rail and hands appearing out of vases on dressers.

It starts with dream and ends with a nightmare although the whole play has that strange surreal feel to it. In the video interview below Barratt describes it as Kafka-like.

There are lots on nice theatrical devices employed most of which work brilliantly - the word incognito floating across the walls for example. But some of which are slightly dubious, I'm thinking particularly of a surreal nightmare sequence as events come to a head where several cast member don slightly sinister head gear, the house gets smashed up and someone walks around with a fake turd in their mouth. Poly thought it visceral, I just thought it odd so maybe it was just me.

This was a preview and it did stuttered a bit at the beginning before properly hitting its stride something that no doubt will be ironed out with more shows.

Special mentions have to go to Kyle Soller who gives a performance, as Khlestakov, worthy of Hugh Laurie's Prince Regent. Doon MacKichan is also a joy as the Mayor's ambitious and flirtatious wife and Amanda Lawrence stands out as the Postmaster who reads everyone's mail. Barratt seems a little hesitant or stiff at times but it somehow works for this character.

I can't help drawing comparisons with One Man Two Guvnor's just a short stroll away at the National Theatre. The plays in themselves are different beasts: One Man is laugh out loud funnier while Government Inspector, lacking the same level of laughs is nonetheless fun leaning more towards satire beneath all the silliness.

If you don't like farce and you hated One Man, might best be avoided. One Man warmed me to farce but with Government Inspector that is probably enough for me for a while, thank you.

I'm going to give it four stars.


The obvious one is Julian Barratt who was in Nathan Barley in which Mr W play poor Pingu.

And here's a brief interview with some of the cast there are more interviews and behind the scenes titbits on the Young Vic blog