Theatre / The Government Inspector Theatr Clwyd, Mold

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The Independent Culture
The funniest and sharpest Government Inspector I've seen in recent years was that presented by the Irish company Dubbeljoint. In their adaptation, Gogol's remote Russian outpost, with its corrupt mayor and equally unscrupulous officials, became a provincial backwater in a 19th-century Ireland still under British rule. When they get wind of the imminent arrival of an inspector, the Russians in the original assume that they are having their loyalty tested by St Petersburg. The Dubbeljoint adaptation gave a keen comic edge to this by setting the play among men for whom Partition would be a decidedly mixed blessing and who are therefore anxious to keep on the right side of Westminster.

You might have thought that Michael Bogdanov, who is keen these days to advertise his half-Welsh origins, would have pulled off some equivalent stunt in his new production/ adaptation for Theatr Clwyd. But if he has given the proceedings a Welsh accent it's largely through the Welsh accents of his likeable cast. For example, that tubby, gossipy, barely distinguishable duo, Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky (Sion Probert and Phyl Harries) come across, throughout, as scandalised windbags on loan from Under Milk Wood. At the end, indeed, it was announced that the cast will be giving a performance of this Dylan Thomas piece to help Theatr Clwyd, whose fate after 8 June this year is still uncertain, in its admirable fight against closure.

There are, it's true, fleeting nods to current issues - as when the charity commissioner (David Lloyd Meredith) declares of the hospital that "ever since I took over the place, they've been recovering like flies" because it has now discovered that the secret of success is good management and so they have "opted out". In general, though, the setting is a somewhat cod 19th-century Russia where people say things like "in for a copeck, in for a rouble" while also demonstrating an uncanny recall for the kind of hoary English gag that deserves a telegram from the Queen for length of service: such as, "It's bean soup." "I don't care what it's been. What is it now?"

Khlestakov, the impoverished clerk from St Petersburg who finds himself plied with drink, flattering attention and bribes when he's mistaken for the dreaded inspector, is played by Ian Hughes as a pettish, puffed-up pip-squeak dandy who hurls himself, with an eventually demagogic frenzy, into the character's drunken delusions of well-connected grandeur and centrality. I admired the skill and the effort in the performance, but I have to say that I didn't laugh much. The physical farce in the production has a stale, unconvinced air. Too many of the "accidents" look like the doggedly dutiful fulfilment of a pre-contracted obligation.

The production attempts to convey the phantasmagoric aspect of the play by the spookily high central doors and the surreally out-of-scale furniture. At the end, too, when the arrival of the real inspector is announced, the now thoroughly unnerved populace backs, self-incriminatingly, into a cage that shoots on stage to impound them. But there's no real whiff of sulphur to the proceedings, nor much sense of a fresh animating vision of the piece. Broad and frequently leaden, this is an Inspector that is some copecks short of the full rouble.

n To 13 Apr. Booking: 01352 755114

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