A GOVERNMENT Inspector is to be confused with The Government Inspector.
Deborah McAndrew has adapted Nikolai Gogol’s political satire, shifting the council shenanigans from small-town 1836 Russia to the small-town Pennines, never specified and therefore neither Yorkshire nor Lancashire but with elements of both to make those from one side of the northern divide feel the play is having a dig at the bent practices of the other.
Truth be told, Gogol’s cautionary tale of bribes, backhanders and brown envelopes could apply to any complacent, corrupt, smug local authority.
It would have particularly struck home in Harrogate when the cost of the Conference Centre was spiralling ever upwards amid much tittle-tattle.
The Russian names have been changed by McAndrew, now mirroring Dickens, Trollope and Sheridan in conveying the essence of a character: hence the likes of Judge Fudge; the two matching Bobs, Sidebottom and Longbottom; Constable Whistler; Councillor Philippa Strawberry (watch out for a cream gag); Councillor Tony Belcher, the blustering council leader; and Snapper, who chances his arm once mistaken for the government inspector of the title.
As she did for her version of Dario Fo’s agit-prop comedy Accidental Death Of An Anarchist four years ago, McAndrew is working in tandem with husband Conrad Nelson, the production’s director and composer.
She has added northern clout; he has added a brass band, the cast members each turning their hand admirably to playing in the band (after the mood was set by the Harrogate Band performing next to the dress circle bar beforehand).
Herself the daughter of a government inspector, McAndrew is in mischief-making mood. Her sharp and tangy dialogue fizzes along, complemented by Nelson’s typically energetic direction, as the forewarning of a visit by a government inspector sends council and band leader Belcher (a suitably slippery Howard Chadwick) and assorted mandarins into an obsequious sweat when the impecunious but dapper Snapper (Jon Trenchard) arrives.
Although the first half should be trimmed for maximum impact, the humour grows apace as the allegorical tale of provincial misbehaviour progresses and desperation rises. Much like Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors for the National Theatre has reinvigorated an 18th century Italian comedy by Goldoni with English detail to bolster timeless, universal characteristics, so Nelson’s cast of 12 revels in both the broad physicality and verbal wit of McAndrew’s playful piece.
Trenchard’s quicksilver Snapper, small and nimble, gives the production a fifth gear as soon as he makes his entrance; Kraig Thornber’s Sidebottom and Andy Cryer’s Longbottom pick-pocket scenes; and the comic mother-and-daughter sparring of Susie Emmett’s outstanding Annie Belcher and Jill Cardo’s Mary Antonia Constance is the stuff of a Coronation Street soap scrap at its best.
Adding to the pleasure is Dawn Allsopp’s set design with multiple drawers up to the ceiling that double as doors, and wallpaper to evoke an urgent papering over of cracks, to go with costumes that convey both now and back then.
Well worth inspecting.
A Government Inspector, Northern Broadsides, Harrogate Theatre, until September 22; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, October 16 to 20; York Theatre Royal, November 27 to December 1. Box office: Harrogate, 01423 502116; Scarborough, 01723 370541; York, 01904 623568.