The Government Inspector – 14 December 2019, Sheffield Hallam Students Union

Reviewer Callam Fellows.

“Upon leaving the theatre after the show my side was physically hurting, which I feel is the sign of a good comedy. The Government Inspector incorporates classic themes and set-ups for a farce with a plot about mistaken identity, wagers, and a cast of greedy, lustful, and foolish characters.

The storyline shifts attention between two key characters; Khelestakov played by Harriet Wilmer Richards and the Mayor played by Jonathan Hurd. Richards plays the character like a young Hugh Laurie, with an eccentric pompousness and foppishness. Giddily unaware of their own selfishness and vanity, they even procrastinate their own suicide attempt in order to admire their reflection, styling different poses with the pistol to their head. Jonathan Hurd demonstrates both his talents for acting and comedy in this role, speaking in a captivating tone, he can quickly explode with emotion, be it excitement or frustration. Although, he also reacts well through sudden silences and frozen expressions, hilariously demonstrating his bewildered shock at the lunacy surrounding him. Though the script, especially in act two, can only seem to focus on one of these two characters at a time, they do share an encounter upon meeting in the first act. Seeing these two converse and become confused as to the other’s purpose for being there, only for them to interrupt themselves to break the fourth wall to communicate their confusion, was one of my favourite moments of the night.

One of the stand out performances came from Annabelle Pinchemain as Grusha the Maid. Reminding of me of Julie Walters, Pinchemain has the audience in hysterics just by shuffling onto the stage with a hunched over posture and a scrunched up face to match. Whilst she delivered some incredibly funny lines, the most hilarious moments came from her facial expressions and body language. Whether she’s smiling with an outstretched arm awaiting a kiss, or sat in a corner sipping from two wine glasses, or suggestively dusting a potted plant, she gave one of the funniest performances of the night.

Another mention must go to the comedy double act. Like the Chuckle Brothers or Tweedles Dee and Dum, Amy Longbottom and Hannah Smith as Bob and Dob share the right amount of compassion and competitiveness with each other. With drawn-on moustaches, plastered noses and colour coordinated outfits, they bounce of each other well and even when not the focus of the scene they give enjoyably over the top reactions to what is happening around them.

Other mentions go to Charlie Walters as the Post Master who, as a post master, is great when it comes to delivery. His camp tone was entertaining but his flirtatiousness was easily outmatched by Libby Allcock’s outrageous and overdressed Anna, who is quick to straddle Khelestakov whenever given the chance. Anna’s daughter, Marya, is played wonderfully deadpan by Katie Owen who plays the character so straight faced that it is genuine surprise when her demeanour shifts after being serenaded.

Whilst I have not been able to mention all the talented performers in this production I do want to say how strong this cast is and more importantly how well they all work together. One of the show’s best moments is led by Chloe Amber Hambling and sees many of the cast members huddled and respond in unison to Hambling’s story.

There were some cast members that unfortunately were not able to project themselves loud enough, which was a real shame as this is a comedy filled with very witty lines and it’s a pity that some of these lines went amiss. On the subject of sound, the sound team was good, providing Russian music for scene changes and an entertaining sound effect for someone falling down the stairs. There was an unfortunate technical error in the second act which caused an occasional loud popping noise from one of the speakers. I mention this because I want to congratulate the cast for continuing without this serving as a distraction. However, I also congratulate Amy Longbottom who did react to it, the way their characters responded to everything around them, and turned an awkward sound error into something quite humourous.

The costumes were joyfully over the top, notably Anna’s lamp-inspired dress, and the Inspector’s old man disguise. The scenery was suitable and I appreciate them incorporating some of the actor’s headshots into the set as well. Some of the prop choices were questionable. For example, an audience seeing a character produce a hat from a box can understand that that box serves as a hatbox; it doesn’t need “Hatbox” painted on all four sides in order to communicate this. To quote the Mayor, “I know it’s a hatbox!”

Overall though a very entertaining production that kept the audience laughing from start to end. The director, Rob Eagle, should feel very proud of himself and his cast.”

Run entirely by students, HSU Theatre are one of the largest non-sporting societies at Sheffield Hallam University Student Union. For further information including their forthcoming shows visit https://hsutheatresociety.wixsite.com/theatre.

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