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Review: The Government Inspector (Marylebone Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale



Comedy fans have multiple reasons to travel very slightly off the beaten track in central London to the still fairly new Marylebone Theatre – not only is a new adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s timeless satire The Government Inspector now playing there, its cast also boasts not one, but two cast members from the much-loved television sensation Ghosts. Would this combination have audiences rolling in the aisles?

Premiering in 1836, The Government Inspector has been regularly adapted in various mediums in the centuries since with TV and film adaptations alongside its many stage revivals. The satirical comedy is set in a small English town where word gets round a Government inspector is visiting. The town’s governor and his group of corrupt cronies pull out all the stops to bribe this inspector, never realising there has been a misunderstanding and the person they believe to be the inspector is nothing more than an over-privileged liar, happily taking advantage of all of their generosity and naivety.


Nikolai Gogel’s original play has been revised in a new adaptation by Patrick Myles attempting to strike the right balance of staying true to the essence of Gogel’s original while updating the story, bringing in new elements in an attempt to freshen it up. Unfortunately, this is the cause of the main problem with this deeply flawed production of The Government Inspector. The tone shifts constantly as Myles struggles to connect with Gogel’s writing in a cohesive manner, creating a disjointed and very jarring production. I struggled to make sense of the choices in the first half of act one though found my enjoyment of the show growing as it continued, though whether this was due to an improvement in quality or simply me acclimatising to the standard is up for debate.


In this adaptation, the comedy never quite lands and suffers from a real identity crisis, seemingly never knowing which type of comedy it wants to go for with a varying mix prevalent throughout. It feels like the objective of the show was to be funny without ever delving into how to best realise this comedy – the result of this feels very forced and makes moments that should have elicited a better response feel fairly muted. The timing never quite works either with punchlines and the way the jokes are delivered feeling quite off.  It speaks volumes that the funniest moment of the night came from an unscripted moment involving a rogue prop stopping the cast in their tracks and resulting in a brilliant bit of improvisation. Perhaps the show would have fared better with more improvised moments as its rigid nature detracted from moments that should have been light and humorous.


This production also suffers from a very middling set – one that doesn’t feel fitting of the cast that have been assembled and certainly less than the kind of standard I have come to expect in previous visits to the Marylebone Theatre. The set design felt unfinished and far too wobbly for a show of this size – a couple of comedic touches when it came to props showed the potential the design had for this production, though sadly this was not seen strongly enough.


Though the adaptation and direction leaves them with an uphill battle, the cast prove their talents and stop this from being a complete disaster. Kiell Smith-Bynoe gives a suitably over-the-top performance as the larger-than-life Percy Fopdoodle, making the stage come alive from his first appearance and tapping in to the comedic aspects of his character naturally. Dan Skinner feels like he has come straight from playing Thernardier in a pantomime version of Les Miserables in his loud and brash characterisation of Governor Swashprattle. The scenes with him and Kiell provide a great dynamic, with both playing off each other and showing their contrasting sides.


Kiell’s fellow Ghosts star (and co-creator) Martha Howe-Douglas is camp and fabulous as Mrs Anna Swashprattle, with Chaya Gupta delivering one of the standout performances as her daughter Connie, particularly with her series of comedy falls on stage. The entire cast of twelve clearly demonstrate their talents, no matter how big their character’s stage time is, but all suffer at the hands of the inconsistent direction which spends the duration of the play attempting to figure out what it actually is.


In certain moments, The Government Inspector showed signs of huge potential, so it is a real shame this wasn’t consistently realised. Its biggest fault is not knowing quite wants it to be, at times feeling restrained by the source material and others going in another direction completely. As it moves into farce territory, obvious comparisons to The Play That Goes Wrong come to mind but, while that show gets its tone and execution very right, The Government Inspector gets it very wrong.  Wildly inconsistent with too many ideas floating around, the end result is a disappointing missed opportunity. While it did raise a few smiles out of me and I found myself enjoying it more as it went along, ultimately its inconsistency and lack of direction was too big a problem to overlook.


The Government Inspector plays at Marylebone Theatre until 15th June. Tickets from 


Photos by Oliver King



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