The Government Inspector (Birmingham Rep)

Roxana Silbert’s production runs until 26 March and then tours

Ramps on the Moon is a new initiative by a group of regional theatres aimed at putting disabled people at the heart of routine programming in a way that renders their disabilities completely irrelevant. The Government Inspector, which will tour each of these participating venues, launches the project.

Certainly Birmingham Rep’s artistic director Roxana Silbert makes no special concessions with her production of Gogol’s satirical comedy: this is the Rep’s professional company presenting the latest show in its season.

That’s not to say there’s no reference made to the interweaving of accessible techniques, and no jokes mined from the resulting set-ups. In fact, some of the biggest laughs come from exactly these moments: at one point the surtitles break down, prompting a hilarious semi-mimed exchange between a sign-language user and the less-than-competent Government Inspector of the title. Fair game, indeed.

So much for the undoubted success of the aim for full integration. What of the production itself? It has to be said that Gogol’s play – nearly 200 years old now – in this adaptation by David Harrower feels dated. Silbert and her designer Ti Green have elected to set it in some indeterminate Russian backwater in a time period impossible to pin down. The ethos they reference is that of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and there are elements of the farcical comedy and petty provincialism that are clearly drawn from Wes Anderson’s movie.

But farce – particularly satirical farce – relies on pace and razor-sharp wit as much as any gurning and pratfalls, and here both are outweighed by the scale of the piece. Most scenes are just a bit too long, and the overall running time of nearly three hours could easily stand a half-hour’s happy trimming.

Among the performances, David Carlyle is more victim than perpetrator as the town mayor desperate to please the man he supposes is the visiting government inspector. He does suppressed desperation to a tee but the script enforces such changeability and flakiness on him that the character’s credibility struggles to survive.

Kiruna Stamell and Francesca Mills make a terrific double act as his wife and daughter respectively, while Robin Morrissey is entertainingly dim-witted and duplicitous in the title role. Jean St Clair’s silent but so vociferous turn as the judge, meanwhile, threatens to steal the show.

It’s a workmanlike, amiable production with plenty to amuse, and gets Ramps on the Moon off to a solid start. Like the participating artists and companies, I look forward to the time when nobody even bothers to mention the whole subject of disability.

Watch our rehearsal video of The Government Inspector here

The Government Inspector continues at Birmingham Rep until 26 March, then tours to New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich (6-16 April), West Yorkshire Playhouse (20-30 April), Nottingham Playhouse (4-14 May), Theatre Royal Stratford East (18-28 May), Everyman, Liverpool (1-11 June), Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (17-25 June).