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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Young Vic


  Doon Mackichan and Kyle Soller/ Ph: Keith Pattison

You can see before you get inside that this production of Gogol's play has been revised, refurbished and reinterpreted. The satire of corrupt provincials who mistake a young clerk for an official sent to report on them is missing the usual "the" in its title. This is meant, one of the reviewers said, "to suggest something more timeless and indefinite." In other words, the play does not apply only to Russians of 1836. Fancy that!
That meaningful change is the work of the translator, David Harrower, who has made the play topical as well as timeless, with "piss," "shit" and assorted anachronisms. But Nicky Gillibrand's costumes, more suitable for a comic ballet, are from all times and none. The false inspector and his servant are in early 19th century dress; the mayor's wife has been shopping at a Mafia-run branch of Christian Lacroix; and the town councillors, one a woman with a moustache, seem to have been dragged through a surrealist hedge backwards. Miriam Buether's set is a funhouse of extreme false perspectives, with harlequin wallpaper and electric rats that scoot along the picture rail.
The visual violence is a hallmark of director Richard Jones, who also conducts the play to a rhythm only dogs can hear. Sometimes as slow as if the actors were wading through Jell-O, sometimes frantically, if ponderously, sped up, its pace resembles nothing human, not even dreams. But many of Jones' gags will be familiar to humans with very small children: When a character's tummy rumbles, for instance, we hear the sounds of badly blocked plumbing.
As the mayor and his wife, Julian Barratt and Doon Mackichan (both British TV comedians) are, respectively, harassed and narcissistic-flamboyant. Their one-note performances chime with that of Kyle Soller as the false inspector. This young actor not only looks like a mime, he acts like one, perhaps the worst things I can imagine saying of anybody. Eyes bulging under a mop of curls, he waves his arms and flutters his fingers, galloping and cackling in ecstasy at the bribes showered on him.
All this carry-on, of course, forgoes any drama, for how can there be any in silly, crazy people (rather than conventional ones) acting in a silly, crazy way? How can we see ourselves in the duped officials and pity them? For, much as they deserve their fleecing, have we not been fooled ourselves? And didn't we, sometimes, deserve it? But, my readers, this is not a show for you and me but for simple savages – or fans of much of our television – who delight in bright colours, strange noises, wild gestures and funny faces.


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