The Government Inspector was never meant to happen. It filled the spot left when rights to The Philidelphia Story fell through last minute, and it’s a disaster. A glorious, hilarious, unabashedly ridiculous disaster.
From the first moment Robert Menzies steps out in monk robes, wringing his hands, and introducing himself as himself, the audience is laughing – not polite giggles, but real, in-on-the-joke laughing. He apologises we won’t be seeing The Philadelphia Story, and if we want to leave, that’s OK. He apologises we won’t be seeing The Government Inspector either, we can leave if we want. He tells us that one actor has died and two have just gone, so hopefully we aren’t there to see them either. When no one moves, he heads backstage mumbling about the “unexpected vote of confidence”, the Belvoir St stage spins, and the play kicks off.
The Gogol play of the same name tells the story of a small town in Russia whose residents mistake a low level clerk for the feared Government Inspector. The clerk is lives large on the town’s dime, seduces the mayor’s wife and daughter, then disappears.
This version, written by Simon Stone and Emily Barclay, revolves around an amateur theatre troupe left in the lurch when the rights to their play fall through. In a desperate, last-ditch attempt to stay on stage, they ask a world-famous Ukranian director to come and direct them in his play The Government Inspector. A down-on-his luck actor is mistaken for the director, he thinks they’re practicing improv, hilarity ensues.
The actors seem to have taken this chance to show off what they can do, but rather than feeling pretentious, it’s actually rather fun; Gareth Davies can do flips, Fayssal Bazzi enjoys playing the dope and Zahra Newman can sing. Even the set designers had fun with the washing machine entry/exit system.
The play within the play gets terrible reviews, but Belvoir St’s version is too funny to miss.
The Government Inspector is on until May 18 at Belvoir Street Theatre