Chickenshed is well known for its inclusive policy and gives children and adults with physical and learning disabilities a chance to participate in all aspects of theatre. Drama is, of course, an excellent way to harness talent and Chickenshed's latest production of Gogol's The Government Inspector is no exception. It's a rip-roaring comedy of mistaken identity, vanity and greed.

Thanks to the gossip-mongers and an indiscreet postmaster, rumours circulate in a small Russian town that there is a government inspector in their midst. Needless to say, the mayor and all his close aides — a judge, hospital superintendent, school inspector and a narcoleptic doctor — are all eager to ensure they don't get a bad report, and so endeavour to track him down to make sure he's well taken care of. 

Meanwhile, a scrounging official from St. Petersberg, accompanied by his weary servant, happens to be staying at the local inn. Naturally, he is assumed to be the inspector. When the mayor et al. descend, they fawn over him one at a time, attempting to bribe him. Of course, he gladly accepts these as loans and makes his swift escape before they all discover who he isn't – but not before attempting to seduce the mayor's wife and daughter!

The characters are all so well-rounded that it gives each player the opportunity to send themselves up, without resorting to caricature (well, most of the time). A few principals treat the audience to their thoughts during live scenes with comedic asides. Jelena Budimir as the judge turns in a humorous dotty dog-obsessed matron-type, complete with riding crop and whimpering puppy sounds.

Meanwhile, as the gossiping country-squire-cum-bumpkins Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky, Ashley Maynard and Gavin May create a fine comedy double act, slapstick, semi-improvised mutterings and are thoroughly entertaining to watch.  Michael Offei is also impressive as the rather over-zealous postmaster having to justify his snooping. The running gag of Mishka, the mayor's servant, requiring at least three name-calls before he appears is kept fresh by the energetic Connor Whitmore, who is expressive and possesses great comic timing despite having very little to say.

Billy Ashworth was the foppish official Khlestakov, playing up to his rakish part as the lothario and precocious villain of the peace – perhaps a tad shouty at times but this was clearly a decision rather than an affectation – is athletic and dashing and it is impossible not to adore his portrayal.  His servant Osip, played by Iain Whitmore, suitably aware of his master's inadequacies gives a great Bob Hoskins style naturalistic tone to balance it all.  However, it's Paul Harris as mayor Anton Antonovich who carries the show and proves to be a powerhouse of fast-paced rhetoric and sliminess as he rallies the troops in order to preserve his rather dubious reputation.  

Directors Daren Norris (who also adapted the play for Chickenshed) and Joseph Morton ensure that the pace is swift and not a moment wasted. Playful business and witty ad-libs abound.  The use of modern colloquialisms add to the humour and not many current-usage expletives were spared, much to the audience's delight. It's a very well-oiled machine considering there are often a dozen on stage at once and thanks to authentic costumes and a beautifully furnished set, there's every reason the productions here give other venues on the London fringe a run for their money.

The Government Inspector, at Chickenshed

A superb adaptation of Gogol's classic comedy of mistaken identity, vanity and greed, in which townsfolk do their best to impress a government inspector. Fast-paced, stylised and very funny. Fawlty Towers even based an episode on it. At Chickenshed Theatre.

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