review Abbey TheatreIt must have seemed like a great idea: take Gogol’s snappy satire on the petty corruption of small town officials in Czarist Russia, transpose it to an Irish idiom and let the resonances and parallels role. In the capable hands of the observant and ever-witty Roddy Doyle and director Jimmy Fay, a man with proven comic sensibilities, what could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot actually – the most basic problem being that for much of the time it just isn’t funny enough. There are some real gems in there – the scene where the mistaken ‘Government Inspector’, invited to sup at the mayor’s house, is by turn slobbered over by a bevy of fawning sycophants and a lusty and highly competitive mother and daughter combo, is a sheer delight – but they only serve to highlight the lack of spark elsewhere. An over-reliance on slapstick mightn’t be to everyone’s taste, but if it’s done well it can really work; here, alas, it’s just a bit tedious.
Despite the large cast it’s all a tad underwhelming, and even some of the old reliables aren’t always up to scratch – Don Wycherley’s Mayor, for example, is all shouts and growls, although Marion O’Dwyer and Liz Fitzgibbon as his wife and daughter are a much better match. Conor Murphy’s complicated revolving set works best when the bare bones are exposed – stairs going nowhere and doors opening into nowhere else, but what’s with all the plastic sacks? As for the Irishness, a fair few brown envelopes work their way into the equation, but we’re still dealing with a confusing profusion of Ivanoviches and Alexandroviches along with a mishmash of costumes – why not go the whole hog and give us a proper bit of paddywhackery. All in all, the proverbial curate’s egg, good in parts.