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A case of mistaken identity and egg on face at the Union

Review by Emma Whitelaw

THERE is town pride; and then there is just plain egocentric stupidity. The people of this small provincial town are, I’m afraid, very much driven by the latter.

Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, at The Union Theatre, is a farcical comedy that exposes the likes of small town bigwigs that are both inept and corrupt.

When the townspeople get word that a government inspector is to arrive incognito, they fall into a frenzied panic.

The thought that someone of such importance is coming to judge their town – which, by the way, was already in a state of disarray - is enough to turn their small world upside-down and inside-out!

Not only are they threatened by the ominous arrival, they have no idea who he is, or what he shall look like. This soon leads to a hilarious case of mistaken identity, as a penniless stranger arrives in town and they all assume that he must, indeed, be the inspector.

Pietro Herrera plays the opportunistic Khlestakov brilliantly!

He is incredibly talented, having seen him once before in Love of a Good Man, I can say he plays the role of a pompous git fabulously!

His characterization of the mistaken stranger is very similar to Hugh Laurie’s idiotic prince, in Blackadder, and got many a gutsy laugh from the audience.

The eccentric Mayor, superbly played by David Barnaby, is both blithering and foolish. He gets himself incredibly worked up and develops a comical stutter.

Although he is quite the tyrant, Barnaby plays him in such a way that you really feel for the lovable fool.

Jan Hirst plays Anna, his wife. She is manipulative, conniving and constantly keeping up appearances, so much to the point that when Khelstakov makes a pass at her, she is more than willing to take him on.

The townspeople are very much the same; they are all in it for themselves, clawing at each other to get to the top. It is every man for himself, but unbeknownst to them, they are making fools of themselves with their so called hospitality!

Hlestakov plays upon their stupidity and accepts generous bribes from the townspeople. He weaves elaborate stories of his life as a government official, accepts a room at the Mayor’s home, and even proposes to the Mayor's daughter.

He takes the entire town for a ride, escaping just before his true identity is revealed. As much as this vexes the town, his masquerade has merely acted like a mirror in which the town can see their every flaw.

The set was very minimalistic, yet effective. The costuming was excellent, as was the sound and lighting.

I particularly liked the use of lighting in the final scene to depict the rage of the townspeople when they realize they’ve been duped.

It was an incredibly enjoyable performance by a fabulously talented cast. Laughs a plenty along with a few lessons learned!

The Government Inspector, written by Nikolai Gogol & directed by Ben DeWynter. Produced by Sasha Regan. Lighting design by Steve Miller. Starring David Barnaby, Jan Hirst, Linda Large, Graham Bowe, William Charlton, Peter Hamilton, Jeffery Kaplow, Dave Short, Pietro Herrera, Alistair Trevill, Ian Groombridge, Jasper Hone and Charles Anderson. At The Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, Southwark, SE1 0LX. From June 1 – 26, 2004. Times: Tuesday to Saturday evenings at 7.30pm. Tickets: £10, with concessions at £8, available from the Box Office: 020 7261 9876.

Photo kindly supplied by

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