The colours are lurid, the acting broad; cows moo comically off stage, while on stage giant mechanical rats scuttle about. Richard Jones’s production of Gogol’s comedy, in a new version by David Harrower, feels like a surreal, manic nightmare, yet it’s strangely slow. Its kookiness is effortful, its unhinged hilarity faintly strained. You might admire its garish style, but it yields surprisingly few robust laughs.
That’s in spite of Julian Barratt, best known for the trippy comedy of ‘The Mighty Boosh’. Barratt plays the corrupt mayor of a mud-mired, dogshit-encrusted Russian backwater. He and his sticky-fingered officials panic when they hear that a government inspector, travelling incognito, is to visit.
A penniless St Petersburg fop, Khlestakov (Kyle Soller), is mistaken for the dreaded bigwig, and swiftly capitalises on the situation by fleecing the townsfolk. Meanwhile the mayor’s wife (Doon Mackichan, who first appears in a startling Day-Glo see-through nightie) becomes aroused by the seemingly exotic stranger.
Barratt brings sickly pallor and furtive cunning to his role, while Mackichan is a painted monument to provincial diva-ish aspiration. Soller is agile and exuberant as Khlestakov, a semi-crazed parvenu high on his own lies, and Amanda Lawrence scene-stealing as the crooked, pot-bellied postmaster. But it’s all so arch and flashy that, once the dazzle wears off, you’re left feeling rather flat.