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The Government Inspector – Marylebone Theatre | Review

The Government Inspector – Marylebone Theatre | Review

There’s corruption to some extent in politics in most countries but resetting a Russian play in Blighty doesn’t quite work for this production of The Government Inspector. The audience only really knows the show is set in Britain because London keeps getting name-dropped, even if the action takes place in a fictional village somewhere outside the capital. It’s not clear why a ‘government inspector’ would want to undertake a general assessment of a village, reporting his findings back to a central government department in London – it’s not something that happens in this country.

The company of The Government Inspector. Photo credit: Oliver King
The company of The Government Inspector. Photo credit: Oliver King

There’s something very non-British about the sheer amount of deference afforded to Percy Fopdoodle (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) by almost everyone else, all too readily handing over large amounts of money, with only Dr Mumpsimus (Nigel Hastings) openly declaring his donation a ‘bribe’. For what exactly the money is for in each case is not always made plain. While I have no qualms with Fopdoodle accepting cash that is presented to him – it is not as if he is threatening anybody at knifepoint or anything of that nature – it all seems more than a little odd.

The show doesn’t stipulate what is at stake should Fopdoodle, presumed to be ‘the inspector’, present a negative report about the village to central government – or indeed what benefits would arise from a glowing report. Governor Swashprattle (Dan Skinner) wants his village leaders to make everything look presentable to the inspector, irrespective of what is really going on – but even this plan is thrown into disarray when it transpires the inspector is already in the vicinity, and therefore has presumably already made some observations.

More questions arise, almost with every passing minute: what exactly did Ivan Grubble (Dan Starkey) do to merit being told “you have no authority here”? That is, of course, a direct quote from an infamous Zoom meeting of the Handforth Parish Council Planning and Environment Committee on 10 December 2020, a particularly ill-mannered online meeting which went ‘viral’, an ironic term in a pandemic. But there is no logical analogy between that meeting and the one called in this play by Governor Swashprattle, and further allusions to contemporary politics are quite few.

True, there are references to street protests and the use of proportionate force by the police, which only seems to reinforce how severely London-centric this adaptation is. Its portrayal of anywhere that isn’t London as backwards and intellectually challenged is crude, short-sighted and incorrect. None of what transpires is, at least to me, offensive, but it is very much unfunny, and it was interesting to observe that, at least from where I was sitting, a few people hadn’t made it back into the theatre for the second half. I regret to report I might, had I not been there to review, have considered doing the same.

The second half is marginally better than the first, in that it felt shorter, but too many narrative strands are left hanging, and the ending happens very suddenly, mid-scene. Given the sheer amount of absurdity in contemporary politics these days that provides plenty of source material to build into a supposedly satirical commentary, this production feels like a wide-open missed opportunity, and there was a part of me that felt I might have been more entertained if I’d stayed at home and watched television news.

It doesn’t help that the acoustics of the venue aren’t best suited to the rapid delivery of the dialogue, and it was therefore difficult to decipher much of what was being said. When Skinner’s Swashprattle turns on the audience, it only further adds to a growing sense of alienation. After we were barked at for laughing, part of me wanted to heckle in response that I wasn’t. Oh well.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Kiell Smith-Bynoe – Percy Fopdoodle
Dan Skinner – Governor Swashprattle
Martha Howe-Douglas – Mrs Swashprattle
Peter Clements – Ivan Brabble
Chaya Gupta – Miss Swashprattle
David Hartley – Reverend Jargogle
Nigel Hastings – Dr Mumpsimus
Christopher Hunter – Postmaster Cumberworld
Daniel Millar – Fudgel
Anna Savva – Judge Woofit
Dan Starkey – Ivan Grubble
Alison Ward – Cyril / Marigold

Written by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852). Adapted and directed by Patrick Myles, with set and costume design by Melanie Jane Brookes, lighting design by Ric Mountjoy, sound design by Jamie Lu, and casting consultancy by Matilda James.

The Government Inspector
Marylebone Theatre, Rudolf Steiner House, 35 Park Road, London, NW1 6XT
3 May – 15 June 2024
PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: Monday – Saturday @ 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturday @ 2.30pm
Tickets from £20

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