The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings





Etcetera and
Short Term Listings



LA/San Diego






Free Updates
Writing for us
A CurtainUp London London Review
The UN Inspector

I have a feeling they might have mistaken me for someone else.
---- Martin Gammon
The UN Inspector
Michael Sheen as Martin Gammon
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)
--> Gogol's 1836 comedy about corruption rife in the provincial government of a remote Russian town is the object of David Farr's ingenious new adaptation The UN Inspector. In An Author's Confession (1847) Gogol described the purpose of his play: "I decided to gather in one pile all the bad in Russia of which I was then aware... and at the same time, to laugh at everything." His bitingly cruel satire presents the far from honest local government officials as they flatter, fawn on and bribe a visitor whom they assume to be sent from St Petersburg to scrutinize their working practices.

David Farr has modernized the relevance of Gogol's exposure of greed, folly and pride. Set fifteen years after the fall of the Soviet Union, independence for this tiny backwater state was meant to herald a new era of democracy, freedom and justice. Instead, the country is run by a few despotically ambitious, nepotistic and acquisitive potentates. When they hear of an impending inspection by the UN, they fear for their cosily immoral pre-eminence. Pouncing upon a well-dressed westerner as their judge, they spare no effort in winning him over. This includes erecting fake signs to conceal the impoverished, neglected north of the country and pretending that the cast of a glossy doctor soap opera are the real inmates of the new IMF-funded hospital. In an inspired twist of comedy writing, the pseudo-inspector turns out to be an incompetent, deluded fool who believes that all the obsequious attention he receives is simply tardy recognition of his true worth. The officials interpret his appearance: "He's UN all over: on the surface completely ineffective, but one slip and he'll tear you apart."

Michael Sheen plays this pretentious, egotistical buffoon with frenetic, hilarious energy. Slightly unhinged, blustering, deceitful and greedy, Sheen nevertheless conveys sympathy for this character unwittingly plunged into state intrigues. Other notable performances in an exemplary cast are Kenneth Cranham as President Skvosnik whose dearest wish is to be invited to the White House for chilli beef and fries; his ruthless social-climber wife Anna Andreyevna (Geraldine James); the "most unintelligent" head of intelligence Ivan Kuzmich Sphyokin (Geoffrey Beevers); and the dourly merciless former-KGB minister for finance Stepana Ivanovna (Elizabeth Bell).

The set and costumes reveal the influx of tacky new capitalism, grossly bloated fortunes and Eurovision-style tastelessness, a cross between Tsarist-scale wealth and McDonald's style. Surrounded by huge gilt frames and golden pillars topped with oversized busts of the President and his wife, the bureaucrats calm their perturbation with French fries.

The writing is thick with wittily perceptive lines and conceits -- for example, the officials are only aware that slums exist because they pass them on their way to the ski slopes or spas. When discussing how impartially the privatisation contracts of public services were handed out, it emerges that the Minister for Education (Sam Cox) gave the national electricity supply to his daughter as a sixteenth birthday present. Although darker and more sinister than Gogol's original, Farr has included a similar mix of cleverly comic satire and vaudeville farce. In fact, the play is full of contrasts: grotesque humour and sharp wit is juxtaposed with the cruelty and mass privation suffered by the victims of the criminal politicians. In the final scene, machine gun fire on the offstage protesting crowds is interspersed with the officials gloating over their apparent impunity. The shifts in tone do not always work perfectly, but the evening is stimulating, unafraid to engage with contemporary issues and above all, entertaining.

Freely adapted from Gogol's the Government Inspector by David Farr
Directed by David Farr

Starring: Michael Sheen, Kenneth Cranham
With: David Ryal, Michael Gould, Sam Cox, Elizabeth Bell, Geoffrey Beevers, Justin Salinger, Jonathan McGuinness, Mark Leadbetter, Geraldine James, Daisy Haggard, Tony Turner, Nicolas Tennant, Nick Fletcher, Mark Arends, Nicholas Tizzard, Peter Aubrey, Cornelius Booth, Penelope McGhie, Michelle Dockery, ate Best
Designer: Ti Green
Music: Keith Clouston
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Sound: John Leonard
Running time: Two hours forty-five minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0207 452 3000
Booking to 5th October 2005
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 22nd June performance at the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank London SE1 (Tube/Rail: Waterloo)
London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from