Fighting out of the Fringes: Government Inspector – big cast, big names, big effort
There was a heady hum of anticipation from the young audience that came to David Harrower’s version of this Russian satire when I arrived to see The Government Inspector. There was the feel we were in for something big. A cast of fifteen, two big TV names and a co-production involving the continuously innovative Warwick Arts Centre and well-respected Young Vic. In the foyer Julian Barratt’s credits could be heard listed in admiring tones and even though he’s most recognisable from The Mighty Boosh it’s always great to hear his brilliance as anti-idiot Dan Ashcroft in Nathan Barley trumpeted. In we poured to be confronted by the angular and brash set that was to remain largely unchanged throughout the show adorned by the riotous and comic-book costumes to follow.
However, like many things with such a big build up the show failed to explode – instead it fizzled throughout inspiring only adequate chuckles and titters from the otherwise eager audience. This, admittedly, may well be due to the fact that this was the third time the show was performed but if you’re going to charge full whack for tickets you can’t hide behind the excuse “don’t worry, we’re only using the provinces as a warm up”. I’m sure Warwick Arts Centre would emphatically deny this was the case and I don’t want to mis-represent the situation but that’s certainly how it felt, least of all during a lack-lustre post-show talk during which there was a continual sense eminating from the assembled company of “why are we here?’ Again I’m putting words into the mouths of others but it’s definitely the first time I’ve seen cast members laugh at and ridicule audience questions rather than graciously accept any and all feedback. Maybe the cast were tired after performing such a physically demanding play, maybe it is true to say that the gentlemen who read his minute-long question from his ‘phone’s note-making app should have tried to cut it down but I couldn’t help thinking that maybe these people felt a bit too grand, a bit too big to be bothering to take on board what was being said and as the show was far from perfect a little more humility wouldn’t have gone amiss. This could simply be the difference between the smaller fringe world I’m used to and this the world of big budgets. But surely if you’re going to show up to engage with your public then do precisely that – engage.
The show, unlike the talk, was effortful. The piece, although deliberately more bludgeoning than subtle, lacked any nuance. You were completely aware throughout that Doon Mackichan (Smack the Pony) was trying to be brilliant, and its true to say she was incredibly accomplished and at times great fun in her role but she was obviously trying. No one was comfortable and for a show which relies so much on a relaxed sense of perfect timing this was a chronic downfall. If this timing tightens up by the point it hits London and the actors find a sense of space that allows them the freedom to feel what they’re doing, then this show could be brilliant. If it remains as it is it can only achieve a mechanistic feel.
Even as it stands this play is worth seeing. The rehearsal-room feel it still carries, if you’re willing to excuse that after shelling out what would be a lot of money to take a family, doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story. A story that even if you don’t know directly you’ll recognise, as the farcical project of “an impostor gets treated like a King revealing the true state of those who fawn him” is clear to all. Harrower said he wanted to leave the imprints of the original work still visible beneath his version and therefore this show isn’t a radical re-imagining but it is solid. I just wished someone had done something more than “solid” on this piece though maybe it wasn’t down to Harrower to do that. Maybe it was. He did say in response to my question after the show he feels re-writes are just as creatively rewarding as his own work. That being the case I wished this show had crackled as Knives in Hens does. I’m still trying to reconcile his comment against a show that ultimately felt too fixated on “working” to be engaging. There’s a lot of cash tied up in this production and it needs to work. It’s too big to fail and therefore hasn’t tried to be exciting yet.
Phil lives and works as a drama teacher in the midlands.
He is also co-director of www.roughfiction.com
He can be followed on twitter @philjckingTagged in: Fighting out of the Fringes, government inspector, warwick arts centre, young vic
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