Inside No. 9 series 2 episode 3 review: The Trial Of Elizabeth Gadge

Shearsmith and Pemberton transport us to the 17th century for a witch trial this week in an episode high on quotability and absurdity...

This review contains spoilers.

2.3 The Trial Of Elizabeth Gadge.

“Sit in a theatre to see/A play of hopes and fears/While the orchestra breathes fitfully/The music of the spheres” – Quote from Witchfinder General (1968)

“It’s like The Crucible, but with a few extra gags thrown in” – Steve Pemberton on this week’s episode

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The third instalment of this series of Inside No. 9 took us back to a perilous, and ridiculous, time in British history – the witch trials of the 17th century. In the small town of Little Happens, witchfinders Mr Warren (Shearsmith) and Mr Clarke (Pemberton) arrive to trial local woman Elizabeth Gadge for the crime of witchcraft. Employed by Justice of the Peace Sir Andrew Pike to find her guilty (or innocent. But, this being a witch trial, probably guilty), the visitors take statements from her son-in-law Thomas and her daughter Goody Nutter, local cobbler Richard Two-Shoes, and neighbour George Waterhouse, while making time for some interrogation and torture, and coming face to face with a demon mouse called Snowflake.

Following last week’s heartbreaker and episode one’s tricky murder mystery, we were back on humorous Hammer-Horror-style ground familiar to fans of the co-creators’ previous work on The League Of Gentleman and Psychoville. Here, jokes and broadly-drawn comedic characters mix with inspiration from gloomy 60/70s UK-set horror movies, in this case Witchfinder General and Blood On Satan’s Claw. And some familiar and always-welcome faces from screens big and small show up to stage the play with Pemberton and Shearsmith – Sark from Tron (living legend David Warner plays Pike), Nasty Nanny Simmons from BBC 90s series Berkeley Square (the always-fantastic Ruth Sheen plays Gadge), Dennis Pennis/Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye plays Two-Shoes), as well as that guy, from everything (Trevor Cooper – who has been in almost everything, and rightly so – plays Waterhouse) – all delivering some deliciously low-brow jokes with aplomb.

And this week’s players are given some great gags. There’s imaginative use of old-English colloquialisms, creative euphemisms, and lots of crudity slipped into the antiquated patterns of speech – ‘teat’ jokes have never sounded so high-brow. There’s some fun with the inherent ridiculousness of the witch trials that swept through the world all those centuries ago, and opportunities for word play aren’t skipped by (the pay-off for Kaye’s character name of ‘Two-Shoes’ not coming until the 17 minute mark with a “Bring forth Goody Two-Shoes!” from Warner). Jokes about the time period never get too knowing beyond a scene playing on the 1600s’ lack of cameras; no A Knight’s Tale anachronisms are slipped into the scenery for cheap laughs.

Though, even the cheaper laughs in The Trial Of Elizabeth Gadge are pretty fantastic, as Shearsmith and Pemberton can always be relied on for great comedy. Pike’s erotic fascination with the witchfinders’ instruments of torture, and need for specifics on exactly where Gadge is accused to have kissed the devil (“Was it right on the hole, or just the cheek?”) bring laughs, as does Kaye’s fight for his wife’s honour with an effusive description of her oral sex skills. It speaks to Inside No. 9’s variety that a blow job gag can sit comfortably next to an episode as emotional as last week’s Christine.

In the first straight-up comedic episode of the second series, Mr Warren and Mr Clarke serve as the ‘straight’ characters for the absurdity and jokes to play out around. Shearsmith brings an intense zealotry to Mr Warren, his hissing sibilance and priggish high vocal register conveying his bigoted nature to the audience quickly. The contrast to the humanity that Pemberton brings to Mr Clarke lays the work for the episode’s close, as Clarke frees Gadge and sets Warren up to be punished in her place for his increasing bloodlust and cruelty. After all the humour, the reveal that Gadge is actually a witch is a neat way to finish the episode – she and her demon pal Snowflake can continue on with their dastardly adventures and buttock-kissing… something Justice Pike would probably like to hear more about, no doubt…

Last week’s Inside No. 9 may have made you cry; the week before, scratch your chin with what the final twist could possibly be. This episode will make you laugh, which is a nice spot of relief from the intensity we’ve had from this series so far. The Trial Of Elizabeth Gadge might not be as flashy as La Couchette and The 12 Days Of Christine, but it sure is a good bit of fun.  

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