Until April 20
The Government Inspector
Seen at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, run ended;
touring until April 20
April In Paris
Until April 13
Reviewed by Mark Brown
“Fools rush in”, the adage has it, “where angels fear to tread.” It’s a phrase which comes agonisingly to mind as, in its desperately unravelling second half, one realises that Rob Drummond’s Quiz Show, rather than being a pleasurable satire of the TV game show, has hurried to become an early, possibly the first, stage drama about the Jimmy Savile case.
If that seems like a spoiler, it’s as nothing compared with the cack-handed way in which Drummond (who deserves the laurels which came his way for past successes Mr Write and Bullet Catch) ruins his own play. In the first half of the piece (which is directed by Hamish Pirie on Andrew D Edwards’s appropriately garish set), we are treated to a sometimes very funny parody of the television quiz show.
Jonathan Watson is on fine form as the show’s oily host, Daniel Caplin. Indeed, there are fine performances all round as ambition spills over hilariously into vicious competition. However, in the midst of the satirical comedy, there are some oddities. Geeky contestant Ben (Paul Thomas Hickey), for instance, is an unlikely psychotherapist. Some of Caplin’s questions (such as one regarding which element combines with saliva to give blood a metallic taste), are noticeably strange.
All is revealed in the play’s disastrous second half, as the curiosities of the first are pieced together in the repressed mind of one-time game show contestant Sandra (Eileen Walsh). She builds a picture of child sexual abuse by a TV personality which (barring an outrageous coincidence) owes almost everything to the testimony of those who allege they were the victims of Savile.
Drummond – whose work has always exuded a principled humanism – is, surely, safe from accusations of exploiting a highly sensitive subject. However, he has failed to deal with the issue with anything like the necessary dramatic subtlety. There is a decided clumsiness in Sandra’s self-revelation, which is compounded unforgivably by her long, utterly gratuitous closing monologue. There is nothing in the needlessly didactic and polemical concluding speech which one cannot discern from both the character’s initial revelations and the recent testimony of victims.
If the structure and the writing of Drummond’s piece go badly awry, Adrian Mitchell’s fine adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s play The Government Inspector continues to impress in Communicado’s recast revival of their touring production from 2010. Three years on, director Gerry Mulgrew’s company is co-producing the hit show with the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
Arriving in Scotland hot foot from their Welsh tour, this pan-British ensemble delivers the superb satire of Czarist Russia in ways which are often quite different from the earlier production. The tremendously integrated live music and the lovely moments of highly physical ensemble playing are still there, but the altered cast sends the piece in interesting new directions.
As the high heid yins of the remote town panic at the news that a government inspector will arrive soon, with a view to sniffing out graft and malpractice, Oliver Lavery is a revelation in the role of Khlestakhov, the layabout petty bureaucrat from St Petersburg who the townsfolk mistake for the titular assessor. Looking a little like Eddie Izzard and performing – as the situation goes to his character’s easily inflated head – increasingly like Rik Mayall in full Flashheart mode, Lavery gives a virtuousic comic performance (and one which reminds us that Mayall did, indeed, play the lead in the premiere of this adaptation back in 1985).
Elsewhere, Stephen Marzella gives a fine performance as the corrupt Governor. However, invidious though such comparisons are, it is difficult not to long for the hilarious, eye-popping outrage of John Bett’s Governor in 2010.
Personnel changes aside, the piece is recognisably the work of Mulgrew, who is, simultaneously, the most Scottish and the most European of directors. The production has the same, brilliant pace and timing as before, and, even if it feels a little small for a large auditorium such as the King’s, it remains a rollicking good night out.
To talk of a good night out, in theatre terms, is almost inevitably to alight on the name of John Godber. The author of such box office hits as Bouncers and Teechers, Godber remains one of the most widely produced English playwrights. However, watching this Perth Theatre/Tron co-production of his 1992 romantic comedy April In Paris reminds one that it makes no more sense to acclaim a play on the basis of it popularity than it does to denounce it for the same reason.
Directed and neatly designed by Kenny Miller, and played nicely by Emma Gregory and Andrew Westfield, this two-hander about Bet and Al (a working-class couple from Yorkshire who, struggling in the wake of former construction worker Al’s redundancy, win a short trip to Paris) has all of the big-heartedness that has come to characterise Godber’s drama. However, despite the fluency and occasional poetics of the writing, it also has all of dodgy sitcom obviousness of his oeuvre (for example, Al proclaims that the bathroom in the Paris hotel has “two toilets”, one of which, inevitably, is a bidet).
Everything in April In Paris – from its sentimental, sometimes bleak comedy to its working-class political sympathies – exists on the surface. A master of his populist genre, Godber leaves us searching in vain for any dramatic depth.
For tour dates for The Government Inspector, visit: http://www.communicadotheatre.co.uk
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on April 7, 2013
© Mark Brown