Nabokov called Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector the greatest play in the Russian language. So controversial was the play that Gogol was forced to leave the country.
The story takes place in a small town “beyond the back of beyond” where FIFA head Sepp Blatter would feel very much at home: corruption is rife, there’s infighting at the top and the natives are restless. The Mayor hears on the grapevine that a government inspector is incoming and incognito; a lowly civil servant visiting the town is mistaken for the inspector and much hilarity ensues.
For once, this is a Russian drama easier to follow than a footballer’s sex life. The great theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold described Gogol’s play as "not so much 'comedy of the absurd' but rather as 'comedy of the absurd situation.'" Like the works of his contemporary Leo Tolstoy, the play has a lengthy cast list which, in this case, can roughly be divided into those being fucked and those doing the fucking (quite literally, towards the end).
In the former camp, Julian Barratt (above) as the Mayor holds the attention every time he is on stage. Fans/critics of his televisual work will be glad/annoyed to know that writer David Harrower has adapted Gogol's vicious satire into what is effectively The Mighty Boosh Go To Russia. Smack The Pony’s Doon Mackichan and Louise Brealey excel as the Mayor’s ambitious wife and jailbait daughter, hormonal harpies who spend most of the time being bitchy, changing clothes and fighting over Kyle Soller’s opportunistic civil servant Khlestakov. Soller superbly usurps centre stage for much of the second half as the desperate town leaders acquiesce to his every whim. Full marks go to the designer Nikki Gillibrand who has done a grand job dressing the cast in a variety of hilarious and anachronistic outfits from lederhosen to leotards.
This is eminently likeable theatre for those who claim not to like theatre (you know who you are). The fruity language and cunning stage design will surely irk the purists (but, really, what else can you do with purists except irk them?). The best summation is probably found in Cher’s immortal words during the making of Mermaids: “It’s a comedy, not fucking Chekhov.”