Butley, Duchess, London
The Government Inspector, Young Vic, London
Chicken Soup with Barley, Royal Court Downstairs, London

Even playing an academic, Dominic West can't avoid self-destruction and violence. He's the first of many big names to tread the boards this summer

Its allure and its kudos are, it would seem, irresistible.

The London stage is set to have star players jostling for position this summer, not least Kristin Scott Thomas (in Harold Pinter's Betrayal); Kevin Spacey (as Richard III); and Jude Law (in a lesser-known Eugene O'Neill at the Donmar). And last week Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh and Dominic West from The Wire were treading the boards too.

West plays the eponymous, acerbic and self-destructive university lecturer in Simon Gray's barbed comedy, Butley. Naive undergraduates, who presume West's whisky-swigging Butley is paid to teach them, are sent packing. He drops their essays in the bin like so many repugnant wet nappies, the better to concentrate on tormenting his protégé-turned-colleague, Joseph.

With Butley's wife having recently left him, the long-suffering Joseph (Martin Hutson) has, unwisely, become his flatmate as well as sharing his office in the English department.

Butley proclaims that winding people up is fun, but he's remorselessly derisive about Joseph's new boyfriend, Reg. And as he launches into homophobic jeers and sniggering disdain for Reg's Northern roots, it is clear that Butley is possessively jealous, too. So who will have the last laugh?

Lindsay Posner's production improves, even as our anti-hero behaves increasingly badly. The climactic showdown is riveting, when Butley's potential nemesis finally knocks at the door: Paul McGann's emotionally buttoned-down, quietly menacing Reg – ostensibly looking for Joseph.

The disappointment, overall, is that McGann's simmering rage and stealthly power-games are far more disturbing than all West's flamboyant bullying. On press night, at least, I felt at times that West was just going through the motions rather than investing his antics with a real depth-charge of despair.

It didn't help that the intellectuals' shared study failed to convince, with a schematic division between Butley's chaotically stacked books, stage left, and yards of bare shelves on Joseph's side – when he's meant to be assiduously ambitious.

Though informed by Gray's own academic career, this early Seventies play isn't his most brilliant. The Philanthropist, Christopher Hampton's portrait of a flailing don from the same decade, is more agonisingly funny.

In Nikolai Gogol's satirical farce, The Government Inspector (1836), a provincial mayor has been idling and pocketing bribes for years when he hears that an undercover investigator is in town, sent by the Tsar. Richard Jones's updated production certainly has comic timing, coinciding with the new anti-corruption drive proclaimed by Russia's current leaders. David Harrower's new English version is also fresh and colloquial.

Strange, then, that this staging has no political bite, opting instead for surreal silliness and trendy styling. Having cast Julian Barratt – a comedian – as the mayor, Jones tries to turn wooden acting into a shamateur, running joke. So Barratt rattles off his lines, turning out to the audience and just darting his eyes sideways as he tries to grease the palm of Kyle Soller's Khlestakov – a skint fop mistaken for the inspector.

The set and costumes are madly hip: a psychedelic medley of swirling Sixties wallpaper, tartan breeches and bobby sox, but this hardly feels morally fetid. Crucially, when the Mayor's serious abuses of power are revealed, the production barely darkens – ending with two motorised rats that merely raise a titter.

At the Royal Court, the revival of Chicken Soup with Barley is far more politically engaged. Arnold Wesker's intimate portrait of a Jewish, East End family falling apart also has epic sweep. It laments how communist ideals inspired euphoric hopes then how the reality, after the Second World War, brought devastating disappointment. We start with an animated gathering at the Kahns' spartan attic flat in 1936, as everyone gets ready to sally forth and fight the fascists in the Battle of Cable Street, encouraged by the feisty matriarch, Samantha Spiro's Sarah. By 1956, the younger generation, including Sarah's son Ronnie (newcomer Tom Rosenthal), has become bitterly disillusioned – shocked by Stalin's Soviet Union. A struggling writer, Ronnie is close to mental breakdown, with no cause to believe in any more, while Sarah sticks to her communist principles, refusing to be satisfied with a materialist culture, a "world where people don't think any more".

The play, penned by Wesker in his twenties and drawing on his own upbringing, builds rather too obviously to the big philosophical clash between mother and son. And I don't believe people really stand on chairs to declare their political opinions, in their own kitchens. However, Dominic Cooke's production is on the whole beautifully naturalistic; Danny Webb is poignant as Sarah's shiftless husband; and Rosenthal surely has a bright future.

'Butley' (0844 412 4659) to 27 Aug; 'The Government Inspector' (020-7922 2842) to 9 Jul; 'Chicken Soup with Barley' (020-7565 5000) to 9 Jul

Next Week:

Kate Bassett sees whether Shrek as a live musical can enchant its audience

Theatre Choice

James Corden is a blast in One Man, Two Guvnors, the NT's romping, 1960s update of Carlo Goldoni's farce, with skiffle band (to 26 Jul). Rupert Goold's audacious, clever Merchant of Venice, at Stratford-upon-Avon's RST, is set in a fantasy-tinged Las Vegas where Portia and her casket-guessing suitors star in a TV gameshow (to 26 Sep).

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower