The positive reviews of Richard Jones’ production of Government Inspector featuring Julian Barratt have been coming thick and fast. But what did The Velvet Onion make of the play? Find out if Velveteer Mog agrees with the theatre critics:
Reviewing a comedy gig is pretty straightforward: was it funny/entertaining/interesting? By contrast, reviewing a play is a rather daunting prospect – the fear of being empirically wrong suddenly enters into the equation. The analogy to how Julian Barratt must feel as he embarks on his first foray into proper theatre isn’t lost on me. Here then, is a fan’s review of Government Inspector. A fan who knows very little about Gogol’s staging intentions and a bit about what constitutes an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
Thankfully there’s plenty on offer to make this an enjoyable evening! The day-glo 1960s set design, the camp pop-art costumes, and the wondrous touches of Booshesque surrealism that provide a feast for the eyes from the word go. The explosive opening salvo of the Mayor’s nightmare sets the tone perfectly for what’s to come.
Energetic comic performances from a strong cast keep the momentum up throughout, most notably Doon Mackichan in fabulous form as the Mayor’s wife and Amanda Lawrence as the Paul Foot-a-like Postmaster, both of whom make the play laugh-out loud funny. Sadly, Fergus Craig‘s role as Bobchinsky is smaller than we’d hoped, though he does get in a storming monologue or two.
And Julian? Fans of Mr Barratt should be reassured to hear that he is very good indeed. He brings a warm humanity to the cringing Mayor, ensuring that the audience feels sympathy for the character at the same time as laughing at his simpering foolishness. The nicely-chosen Essex accent only slips a few times, betraying just a hint of Howard Moon, but with his moustache-based pomposity redirected into a severe beard. As the main character Julian has an astonishing amount to do – whole half pages full of rapid-fire dialogue – an impressive feat for a theatrical debut.
While solid, Barratt’s Mayor doesn’t offer the extreme caricature humour of some of the cast. Whether this is deliberate or not, I’m not sure. He plays the Mayor with one foot (just the one!) planted in reality, while some of the play’s biggest laughs come from the moments when reality is left far, far behind. That said, Barratt’s slightly more measured Mayor helps to create connection with the audience. We know, and he realises, the absurdity of the situation he finds himself in – even though he can’t help himself.
For this humble reviewer, however, the one thing that prevents Government Inspector packing the punch that I expect from a visit to the theatre is the play itself. Considered biting satire at its conception, its humour (though sparkily-written in David Harrower’s modern adaptation) offers the jolly, naive simplicity of a school play. This is no slur on the production or the performances, it’s just a personal view about the play itself. Entertaining? Yes. Fun? Hugely. Yet ultimately an evening of ever-do-slightly old-fashioned (if brilliantly-performed and fabulously-dressed!) comedy.