This 5-star review comes with a warning: there will be a minority of theatregoers who will not enjoy the caricatured elements of a classic play. Maybe not every choreographed exclamation from the assembled councilors or every sit-com-styled entry is necessary and the Council Leader’s wife and daughter are perhaps too cartoonish, but it would be perverse to withhold five stars from something which is carried through with such intelligence, verve, imagination and consistency – not to mention clockwork precision!
Northern Broadsides are collaborating with Harrogate Theatre on A Government Inspector, Deborah McAndrew’s re-drawing of Nikolai Gogol’s satirical farce, at the outset of an extended tour including several more Yorkshire venues. The play is thoroughly Yorkshirised, but stays close to the original in the sequence of main speeches and events - even the naming of characters, though most of us would accept Tony Belcher and Luke Pickles as proper Yorkshire names.
The story is of a simple, initially accidental con trick, enlivened by an entertaining parade of characters and deepened by its satirical edge. In a remote town (in this version in the Pennines, almost between Yorkshire and Lancashire) all manner of corruption is practiced by the authorities. The word comes through that a government inspector is likely to arrive, but what in fact arrives is a foppish, foolish, self-important young civil servant, a scion of the upper classes, but a figure of no importance. The misunderstandings, the bribery, the romance follow on inevitably.
At the centre of a production full of effective doubling are two very impressive performances. Howard Chadwick projects the plain-speaking, devious-dealing Council Leader with Pennine panache, but also finds full value in the late speeches confronting the audience with the shallowness of the whole operation: seriously powerful, despite the production’s emphasis on farce. Jon Trenchard’s Jonathan Alexander Snapper (more usually Hlestakov) is a remarkable mini-Noel Coward, so pirouettingly over-the-top that you fear he will never convince, but soon establishing his “musical comedy” world-view. A word, too, for Tim Frances as Frank (more usually Osip or Yosef), the voice of sanity as Snapper’s servant, here a sort of PR-style assistant.
Conrad Nelson’s production is sharply defined, full of original touches, immaculately paced, Dawn Allsopp’s designs are witty and workable, her set dominated by an enormous set of drawers packed with evidence of corruption, and the music is a constant delight. The cast of 12 take versatility beyond exiting as the Postmaster and entering as the Police Chief and constitute an excellent brass band (MD Rebekah Hughes). Nelson’s compositions work well (including several outside the brass band field), but the real inspiration is to use established brass band favourites familiar enough to serve as comment on the action.
A Government Inspector will also be playing at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, The Viaduct Dean Clough, Halifax, finishing at York Theatre Royal on 27 November.