The Government Inspector – The Young Vic Theatre, London
I was initially drawn to the Young Vic’s new production of Gogol’s The Government Inspector due to the casting of Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt in the role of the Mayor.
Described by Vladimir Nabokov as “Russia’s greatest comedy” the concept of the play is simple, the inept and corrupt Mayor of a small town is sent into a frenzy after receiving news that a Government inspector is due to arrive incognito, he mistakes a young, canny, gambling conman, Khlestakov for the said inspector, this exposing the underhand activity the town’s bigwigs are desperate to hide.
The play itself starts with a dream and ends with a nightmare scenario although it is predominately strange and surreal throughout, such as having the word incognito floating across the walls, and having stuffed black rats scuttling along the dado rail.
The key moment of the play is when the Mayor and Khlestakov first meet, the Mayor terrified by the power held by the assumed official, the latter presuming his debtors have finally caught up with him. It’s this awkward but funny exchange that tells Khlestakov that he might be able to play this situation to his advantage and also suggests that Kyle Soller, finely cast in the role is going to excel.
His Khlestakov is a dandy, obsessed with fashion and fame and armed with the ability of talking his way out most situations. Clearly channelling the lovechild of Blackadder’s Prince Regent and The Mad Hatter, Soller is a marvel, he successfully manages to hold the audience so they, like the desperate townspeople, hang on to his every word, this is beautifully combined with a brilliant, show-stealing physical performance.
Barratt’s Mayor seems to be the opposite of his visitor, appearing coarse and dishevelled, in the vain hope that he can avoid the inspector discovering, for example, that they never did use donated money to build a church. Unsurprisingly, Barratt seems more comfortable with the comic elements of his role, seeming, at other times rather awkward, this could however simply be put down to this being his first attempt at ‘straight’ theatre.
The sets and costumes are loud and gaudy, designed mainly with big 70s prints, purples, greens and sequins. All of this occasionally combined in a single costume worn by Doon Mackichan who delights as the Mayor’s ambitious and flirtatious wife Anna, becoming one half of a rather glorious double act with Louise Brealey as the Mayor’s daughter Maria.
Another stand out performance in my opinion, is Amanda Lawrence as the Postmaster who reads everyone’s mail. Who knew a woman with a false moustache could provide so much hilarity?
Some credit should also go to Simon Muller, who performed his role of the School Superintendent on crutches following an unfortunate incident during rehearsals.
Despite Julian Barratt being advertised as the key role in this play, for me, the star of the show is Kyle Soller, a marvellous, charismatic actor who I shall definitely be watching out for in the future and who, ultimately, gets full marks in my report.