The cast of Zanzibar. Photo courtesy of the BBC/The Guardian

The dark comedy-horror Inside No. 9 has returned to BBC2, with a stylish episode inspired by Shakespearean farce. It was a bold choice for the first show, even for this inventive series, which features stand-alone episodes starring an almost entirely different cast each time.

Zanzibar, the tale of a group of hotel guests, wasn’t nearly as dark as fans of the show have come to expect, but it was a flawless demonstration of the writing talents of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, the writers of Psychoville, and two of the team from The League of Gentlemen.

Written in iambic pentameter, and with the characters breaking the fourth wall to throw witty asides to the viewer, Zanzibar had the feel of a theatre play, which was obviously what Pemberton and Shearsmith intended with this ode to Shakespeare.

The farce centred around the ninth floor of a hotel, and featured a debauched prince and his sinister bodyguard, a woman who was tired of her relationship and her boyfriend who was about to propose to her, a man intending to end his life, a sex worker, a hypnotist, and a man accompanied by his elderly mother who suffered from a memory problem. Aided and abetted by a bell boy and a maid, the characters came together in a series of cases of mistaken identity and huge coincidence, in an episode that was wickedly funny and incredibly well-written.


Zanzibar, starring Rory Kinnear as Gus. Photo courtesy of the BBC/The Telegraph

As with a lot of farces, the plot was fairly predictable, but it was entertaining to watch it unfold so deftly. It was obvious quite early on that Rico and Gus were long-lost twins, with both being played by Rory Kinnear. The guest who was intending to commit suicide in his room wanted to do so because he was haunted by the decision to give up his twin boys at birth – you could see where this was going. But despite the family reunion being a predictable ending, there was still plenty of time for some of Pemberton and Shearsmith’s bizarre comedy touches.

Reece Shearsmith made an excellent villain as the bodyguard Henry, who was hell-bent on murdering the prince he was supposed to be protecting. True to Pemberton and Shearsmith’s absurd comedy style, Henry was eventually foiled by the hypnotist, who compelled him to drop his knife and perform the creepiest hokey-cokey dance that’s ever been seen on British TV – and all by shouting “spaghetti Bolognese”.


Reece Shearsmith as Henry. Photo courtesy of the BBC/Reddit

It never fails to amaze me that Pemberton and Shearsmith keep managing to come up with new scenarios for this series, and while Zanzibar didn’t tick all the horror-comedy boxes, it definitely stands out as one of the best episodes so far. I’m definitely looking forward to a return to the macabre in future episodes though…