Theatre Review: The Government Inspector, Marylebone Theatre

Theatre Review: The Government Inspector, Marylebone Theatre

One of the first proper plays I ever saw was an adaptation of Gogol's The Government Inspector starring Rik Mayall at the National Theatre back in (thank you Google) 1985. Alongside Mayall, already a star thanks to The Young Ones, the cast also included two other actors who would later pop up in Blackadder – Jim Broadbent and Tim McInnerny. Add in the fact that the Fawlty Towers Hotel Inspector episode, about to be staged as part of the West End Fawlty Towers production, is a virtual rewrite of the mistaken identity plot, and you can see how Gogol's satire on politics, greed and sitcom has a timeless sitcom vibe.

So maybe it makes sense then that this new outing at the Marylebone Theatre includes two cast members of the best sitcom in years – Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Martha Howe-Douglas of Ghosts – plus Dan Skinner, best known as plastic bag carrying scruff Angelos in Shooting Stars. They bring a bit of star power to a production that is by-and-large perfectly enjoyably but ultimately feels a little undercooked.

Smith-Bynoe plays lowly clerk Percy Fopdoodle who pitches up in a one-horse town (relocated from Russia to England) just as the Governor and his simpering, sycophantic officials have been informed that a high-ranking Inspector is about to check them out. Needless to say they think Fopdoodle is way more important than he actually is and proceed to offer him bribes, sexual favours and other such perks until the big reveal at th end that shows them all up for the power-crazed small-minded hypocrites that they are.

And that's effectively the entire plot. The comedy depends on how it is played and here the ensemble very much commits to knockabout high energy farce with a lot of shouting. There is some superb physical humour from Smith-Bynoe during one scene as he gets increasingly drunk and from Chaya Gupta as Governor Swashprattle's daughter who has a habit of collapsing to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut at inopportune moments. 

Mrs Swashprattle, played by Ghosts star Martha Howe-Douglas, who stepped in when original cast member Vicki Pepperdine had to pull out for personal reasons, feels a little underwritten - not as ruthlessly scheming as some, not as stupid as others. The rest of town leaders – a bunch of central casting eccentrics who evoke the Vicar of Dibley's Parish elders – have an endearing comic habit of shuffling around in a huddle as if tied together.

The outstanding turn, however, is Skinner as the Governor, who desperately craves high status and thus has the furthest to fall. When he realises his error at the end he stamps his boots like Rumpelstiltskin and rages and rants at the scenery, the cast and the audience in a manner that almost out-Fawltys John Cleese's Fawlty. He deserves a medal for this bit if there was room for another one on Swashprattle's gong-strewn tunic.

The set is kept simple, with a changing portrait on the wall helping to signify location changes and the script, adapted by director Patrick Myles is tight, coming in at two hours (including interval). It's a coup to get a TV-famous cast like this, but if they are up for doing a classic play maybe someone should go the whole hog and get the rest of the BBC sitcom line-up in for a remake of Ibsen's Ghosts. There are high spirits here but I left wishing there were more

Until June 15. Tickets and info here.


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