Inside No. 9: Series 4, Episode 1 – Zanzibar

Picture Shows: Henry (REECE SHEARSMITH), Rico/Gus (RORY KINNEAR). Image Credit: BBC/Sophie Mutevelian.

Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s comedy anthology returns with a Shakespearean twist.

Set on the ninth floor of London’s Hotel Zanzibar, this episode is told in iambic pentameter, a way of writing where the words match that of the human heartbeat, which is how William Shakespeare often wrote his plays. Also, akin to his plays the characters frequently speak directly to the audience.

The episode follows various plots relating to the guests staying in the various rooms, linked by the bell boy Fred (Jaygann Ayeh) and the maid Colette (Helen Monks). Among those staying include Prince Rico (Rory Kinnear) who wants a prostitute to visit his room to perform what Fred calls “the water sign” rather than “the earth sign”, but the Prince’s life is under threat from his own bodyguard Henry (Shearsmith) who plans to kill him. Also staying on the floor are Gus, who looks identical to the Prince (and thus is also played by Kinnear) and plans to propose to his girlfriend Amber (Hattie Morahan), but she is not interested. Perhaps the hotel’s hypnotist Vince (Kevin Eldon) can help her find love again?

Then there is Alice (Marcia Warren), an old woman suffering from memory loss who goes wondering into other people’s rooms, worrying his son Robert (Pemberton), annoying the suicidal Mr. Green (Bill Paterson), and causing confusion when Prince Rico thinks she is the prostitute, when the one he really ordered, Tracey (Tanya Franks), services Gus.

Zanzibar appears to mix the classic storytelling style of Shakespeare with some good old-fashioned farce. You have the combination of princes, mistaken identity, and people falling in love with the wrong person which appears in his comic plays like Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, thrown in with people being sent to different rooms causing confusion and sauciness. Having said that though, water sports probably goes beyond saucy. Nevertheless, all these elements result in some great and sometimes grotesque comic moments.

On top of this is some emotional drama, such as the tension which builds up at the beginning when we learn of Henry’s intentions of killing the prince and how he plans to do it, as well as Mr. Green’s tragic reasons as to why he wants to kill himself.

No doubt you will be expecting to find out what the comic twist at the end of the story is. Given that it is based on Shakespearean comedy, some of you will probably be able to guess.

Inside No. 9 is on BBC Two at 22.00 on Tuesdays.