By Nikolai Gogol, in a new version by David Harrower, from a literal translation by Charlotte Pyke
Directed by Richard Jones
Venue: Young Vic
Date: Wednesday 29th June 2011
This was something of a disappointment. We’ve seen this play before and enjoyed it, though not in this translation, and recent stage performances by TV comedians have been fine, so perhaps my hopes were a little too high. The trip into the auditorium was enough to lower them, mind you.
Ever since the Young Vic’s revamp, the productions I’ve seen have been more about showing off a fancy set design than presenting the play, and today’s effort was no exception. Once again, the audience had to traipse around three sides of the theatre before wandering through the set and out into the seating area. Some rustic locals were present, playing cards or peeling potatoes (don’t know if they were cast members or not) but given the absurdist style of this production, and the proscenium arch layout, why bother?
Anyway, I decided to ignore the warning lights flashing in my brain, and just enjoy the play. If only! It started in a strange way, with Julian Barratt getting out of bed on the far right of the stage to chase the word ‘incognito’ around the room. This sneaky little word was being projected onto the stage and kept getting away from him. When he opened the far right door to look for this ‘incognito’, there was only a pair of boots sitting there – I presumed they represented the unknown man. (I was wrong about the boots – see later.)
I had just about warmed up to this approach by the time the play itself started. It was funny when Julian, as the Mayor, now in the ‘real’ world, used the bedroom door to go through to the main room, instead of walking through the wall, but it was pretty much downhill from there. His delivery was monotonous, and he looked uncomfortable as he stood around waiting for his next line, unlike the other actors who inhabited their characters brilliantly throughout. He was acting as if he was still in a sketch show, so perhaps he hasn’t got the experience yet to provide a fully sustained performance on the stage.
Amanda Lawrence was particularly good as the postmaster, and we enjoyed seeing Steven Beard again as the unctuous German Dr Gibner. Doon Mackichan was good as the Mayor’s wife, tarting herself up excessively to impress the young stranger, and I thought Louise Brealey was brilliant as the Mayor’s daughter, simpering and sidling round the room in an assortment of outfits to try and catch the young man’s eye while her mother monopolised the sofa. Kyle Soller was fine as Khlestakov, the stranger who’s mistakenly believed to be the government inspector, but I felt he didn’t have enough to play against with such a weak Mayor, and the best scenes for me were the ones where the Mayor was absent. For one of these, the ‘loans’ scene, there were fistfuls of cash being waved at Khlestakov from all angles – through the floor, through the wall, etc. – and I loved the way the Doctor simply sidled through the room and thrust his contribution at Khlestakov without saying a word, before disappearing through the other door.
Fortunately, the performance finished a good twenty minutes early, as I was finding the last section very tedious. I did like the rats when they scuttled along the wall and also when they appeared in the doorway at the end; at the beginning I took them for a pair of boots, but this time I could see them more clearly and realised what they were. It wasn’t good enough to make up for the rest of it, though.
© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me