The UN Inspector, NT Olivier, London

The estate agent who came in from the cold
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The Independent Culture

Gogol's vintage Russian farce, The Government Inspector, just got blasted into the 21st century. The director David Farr has been far from persuasive with his recent, trendy modern takes on Julius Caesar (for the RSC) and The Odyssey (for Bristol Old Vic). However, he has thought through this free adaptation much more thoroughly, as well as having lots of fun redrafting the dialogue. One hopes this bodes well for the Lyric Hammersmith where he's about to make his mark as artistic director.

Gogol's vintage Russian farce, The Government Inspector, just got blasted into the 21st century. The director David Farr has been far from persuasive with his recent, trendy modern takes on Julius Caesar (for the RSC) and The Odyssey (for Bristol Old Vic). However, he has thought through this free adaptation much more thoroughly, as well as having lots of fun redrafting the dialogue. One hopes this bodes well for the Lyric Hammersmith where he's about to make his mark as artistic director.

Instead of mayoral panic about one of the Tsar's officials arriving in a provincial Russian town, the stakes have been upped in this remake. Kenneth Cranham's Skvosnik is the president of a humungously dodgy former-Soviet state where Michael Sheen's Martin Gammon gets mistaken for a smart-suited British spy who is reported to be sniffing out corruption, electoral fraud and humanitarian abuses for the UN.

Skvosnik's cabinet, whose private bank accounts are bulging with snitched IMF funding, desperately lavish Gammon with VIP bribes, vodka, and the president's wife and daughter, who are virtually handed to him on a plate, dripping with Western designer clothes. The initially terrified Gammon is not, of course, an undercover agent at all, but a failed Foxton's estate agent who is trying to exploit Eastern Europe's new capitalist economies.

The strength of this adaptation is that it highlights the historic continuity of corruption. Farr's alternative denouement is strikingly dark, too. That said, quite a few scenes are comically strained. The text could take some cuts and the original play's retained farcical structures can feel old-fashioned and unsophisticated, sitting uneasily with the modern dress. What's more, there are too many feeble cameo performances, including most of the cabinet members and the President's posturing, slaggy daughter. Geraldine James is fine as the caricatured, hard-nosed First Lady but Cranham's attempts at farcical hyperactivity often look hammy.

So the evening is hit and miss. It's really held together by Nicolas Tennant, who plays Gammon's slobby sidekick to perfection, and by Sheen who gathers crazy momentum. He is strongly reminiscent of Rik Mayall in this role, and the wild flamboyance with which he knocks back the vodkas and hurls himself off banqueting tables is a joy.

To 5 October, 020 7452 3000

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