Government Inspector, Young Vic, London

4.00

An inspector enthrals in a comic classic

Richard Jones rides high in the love-'em-or-loathe-'em category of theatre director.

I thought his bafflingly avant-garde Young Vic production of Annie Get Your Gun lurched beyond parody in its badness. But now, at the same venue, Jones has masterminded this gloriously grotesque and brilliantly funny revival of Gogol's comic masterpiece, The Government Inspector. The garishly outre design (by Miriam Buether) deposits the play in a Russia that looks semi-1970s, a decade that taste forgot particularly so here. The phantasmagoric side of the proceedings is drolly signalled from the outset as in dripping horror-movie script, an illuminated sign reading "Incognito" slithers across the set, teasing and eluding the shattered-looking provincial Mayor (wonderful Julian Barratt).

The denizens of this backwater have been warned that a government inspector is about to slip anonymously into their corrupt midst. By a stroke of genius, Gogol has them mistake for this worthy a young impoverished clerk from St Petersburg, Khlestakov, who is holed up in a local inn unable to pay his bills. What follows is like a barking case of surreal symbiosis. It's panic at the possibility of exposure that causes the locals to project a false identity on to this stranger but the latter is himself driven by fear of being recognised as one of life's failure and so, when he twigs to their exploitable mistake, he treats the absurd respect he is accorded as long-overdue recognition of his true worth.

All nasal, glottal-stopping, Julian Barratt exudes a seedy, calculating smallness of soul that would make David Brent look Bishop Desmond Tutu as he flashes wary, nudging beams of experimental complicity at Kyle Soller's stunning Khlestakov. With his mop of red curls and Dickensian-clerk outline, Soller looks as The Death of Chatterton might, as redrawn by Phiz. His drunken flights of folie de grandeur at the central party escalate in wild anarchic energy, drawing out his inner megalomaniac as he ascends the mantelpiece to the sound of totalitarian armies on the march. But David Harrower's pungently slangy translation gives him quieter rum moments too as when he not only claims acquaintance with Pushkin but condescends – "a real character, but, you know, small doses." Everything is taken to excess here (the Mayor's wife, a lovely Doon Mackichan sports a turquoise and gold creation that would make a Christmas tree blush), with rats and an interpolated beating up of the real government inspector, but it all feels true to the play and one can't get enough of it.

To 9 July (020 7922 2922)

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
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.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones