Not-a-review: Government Inspector, Young Vic

“Compared to the important things in life, everything in life is dust and vanity, ashes and delusion”

David Harrower’s version of Gogol’s Russian comedy for the Young Vic is titled simply Government Inspector, losing the definitive article as did the Arcola’s Seagull, marking an odd potential trend for 2011. The inept Mayor of a small Russian town is driven into a frenzy with news of an impending visit from a government inspector but when a conman is mistaken for this visitor, the hypocrisy and corruption that the town’s bigwigs are desperate to hide is exposed.

I can’t fairly pass judgement on anything I saw as I didn’t make it to the end. For the first time in about three years, I left at the interval: something I have resisted doing since starting to write reviews properly, although often against my better judgement. And in a week when an article elsewhere about not overdoing it at the theatre mentioned me by name, there was something ironic in the fact that I even arrived to this show since I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it and several people had warned that they knew I would hate it: my default position is currently seeing as much as is humanly possible whilst (barely) holding down a job in order to expand the breadth of my theatrical experience rather than making considered decisions about what I’m inclined to like.

From what I did see, Kyle Soller’s Khlestakov, all got up like a Dalston dandy (I swear I have seen his exact outfit and hairdo at East London warehouse parties over the past few weeks), suggested a powerfully kooky stage presence and Amanda Lawrence continued to prove her extraordinary gift for physical comedy. I couldn’t helped but be disappointed by Barratt’s corresponding lack of ease, underpowered both vocally and physically and one of the main reasons I didn’t return.

The other was the simple fact that I didn’t find it funny. My antipathy towards farce is well-documented on here, despite a recent flirtation in Richmond that I did enjoy, but this felt closer to One Man Two Guvnors both in its daftness and in the audience’s determination to laugh at every single thing. That is always an alienating thing especially if you’re not laughing with them from the start, but it hit ridiculous levels in the opening scene here where I was convinced that I was missing something right in front of my very eyes as people were hysterical at Barratt’s every move whilst simply getting dressed.

It was interesting to make a first visit to the Young Vic’s gallery seating, well worth a tenner with a sweeping view that isn’t too far away, but the simple fact is that I shouldn’t really have gone along to this. I wanted to form my own opinion, part of the reason why I have embraced so many of the theatrical opportunities offered up to me over the past two years, though there is an ever-persuasive argument that I need to start trusting my instincts, and those of trusted others, a bit more.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Keith Pattison

Playtext cost: £3
Booking until 9th July

2 thoughts on “Not-a-review: Government Inspector, Young Vic

  1. I've had several experiences over the past couple of years like the one you describe here – alienation in the face of an audience's inexplicable hilarity. These experiences are both uncomfortable and intellectually fascinating. From time to time they even edge into the horrifying when I feel that the laughter of the crowd is making me complicit with a politics I find dodgy. I'm thinking particularly of the couple of uses of blackface in farce I've seen in the last year and a half. Even when the production seems to be making a subversive point with this device (as Nielson's Realism did), the audience's positive reaction *preceded* the subversion, and I was left feeling a bit queasy. There was a similar moment last year in the admittedly very funny Posh – I began to wonder whether the laughter of the audience wasn't so much deriding the aristocratic excesses on stage as reveling in them, in the most literal, almost congratulatory way.

    At any rate, laughter at farce seems to me to be at least as much about ritual and the pleasure of formula as about spontaneity of humor, and that aspect of it fascinates me. But if you don't engage with (or even know) the generic expectations (I often don't) it can be VERY alienating and sometimes troubling.

  2. Thanks for such a considered response. It is a funny thing isn't it and it does mean that I pick the theatres that I go to at weekends most carefully, more often than not I know when it's not going to be "my kind of audience"…!

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