12 September 2022
Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 comedy, THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR, tells of a small town’s politicians trying to cover up their corrupt practices as they realise they are being investigated by an inspector who is arriving incognito. Bribery and mistaken identity play a major part as the officials dig themselves into a deeper hole than they started with.
This brand new version – indeed this is the world premiere, having been commissioned for the Sidmouth Summer Season – brings the story right up to date setting the story at the top of the British political establishment. The government in question is lead by a loud, partying, Latin-quoting, Eton-educated Prime Minister…..well, you get the picture.
The problem with anything mimicking actual life is that things change and in a week when the UK has experienced a new Prime Minister and, so very sadly, the death of a much-loved monarch, alterations have been required. A careful path has had to be trod as the story is brought to life punctuated by a number of a capella songs.
There is no doubt that the producers of the Sidmouth Summer Season will have known that such a production would be something of a risk; sadly, in my opinion, while the concept sounds great, the results are less successful.
I was left unsure as to what the show was trying to be. Satirical it certainly is, but the satire lacks a sharp edge and often the barbs are a little too obvious. Definitely a comedy or maybe a farce; but the laughs were too few and far between – it just isn’t funny enough. Then there is the music. With the only accompaniment being vocal or clinking of wine glasses or rustling crisp packets, the songs are neatly performed but I felt they lacked variation sufficiently enough for me to recall any of them afterwards. The vocal backing often drowned out the main singers which made it all a bit of a mish mash; I am not entirely sure the songs actually added anything to the production.
Though the plot is fairly thin, it still managed to create confusion; the introduction of the ‘imposter’ character, was not at all clearly explained – or maybe I missed something. You are not looking for deeply drawn characters in a play such as this, but apart from the main protagonists the individual roles are very two-dimensional. The actors battle through. Joshua Coley is the stand-out as the Prime Minister, throwing everything he has got at the role; he never lets up for a moment. Matthew Jay-Ryan, likewise, creates Jake (the aforesaid imposter) with skill; the young man with dreams of being a tech giant – the actor sings and dances with great panache. Elsewhere, there is little for the talented actors to get their teeth into – with the possible exception of Hilary Harwood’s turn as Greta Thunberg – which elicited the only real laugh from this reviewer.
This is one of those shows which may well have been huge fun to rehearse and perform, but from an audience point of view, it just doesn’t come off. The feeling that this is a work in development is rather over-powering. As mentioned already, conceptually it is great, but the execution falls at too many hurdles. Director Andrew Beckett and his team have worked tremendously hard to make it succeed, but the writing is just not sharp enough.
This Summer Play Season at the Manor Pavilion in Sidmouth has been a wonderful celebration of theatre and my misgivings about this production do not diminish that view. In fact, hats off to the producers for taking a risk and bringing something new and experimental to the stage. There is time for it to develop and adjust and, who knows, it may become a huge hit. Reviewers have been wrong before!
CAST & CREATIVES
THE PM – JOSHUA COLEY
JAKE – MATTHEW JAY-RYAN
BUGGINS – MARK LAVERTY
PM’S WIFE – JULIA MAIN
LUCY – CHARLOTTE HAINES
MORLEY – HILARY HARWOOD
YASH – RICHARD AARON
MP – BRIDGET LAMBERT
WRITERS – JODIE PRENGER & NEIL HURST
MUSIC – CAT GISBY & MAXWELL TYLER
DIRECTOR – ANDREW BECKETT
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JOE UNDERWOOD
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS