‘If you did it, deny it’ forms the translation of the motto of this small Pennine town. A Yorkshire setting, created by Deborah McAndrew, provides an intriguing holiday home for Gogol’s classic tale of corruption and bribery.
After beginning his career with romantic tales of Ukrainian Cossacks, Gogol’s later writing satirised political corruption in Russia. After four years of mentoring from Pushkin, he finally began to undermine Russian romanticism with his rich comedy, creating The Government Inspector. As part of Harrogate Theatre’s ‘Yorkshire Month’, Northern Broadsides have transplanted this play just north of Leeds from the plains of Russia, adding colloquial references and a brass band to the mix.
This show is packed with exuberant performances. The pace is energetic, movement is comically choreographed and each moment is staged perfectly for a tableau or photograph. Two past pantomime dames, Howard Chadwick and Andy Cryer feature, with Chadwick taking the lead role of Councillor Tony Belcher. The humour is thus slapstick, stylised and relentless, much to the delight of the audience.
Dawn Allsopp’s set provides a Mary Poppins’ bag of surprises, with drawers and shelves popping out to reveal keyboards or provide a home for a potted plant. The main platform adds a level to supply a stage for the band, which is formed at regular intervals from the cast members. This adds an air of pomp and circumstance, using well known themes such as Jerusalem to evoke humour for the most part, but also inducing great dramatic effect in somber sections.
McAndrew’s script is full of puns that compliment Gogol’s style, but it is firmly rooted in the north. References to Theakston’s Old Peculier, Kirkby Overblow and the very inclusion of a brass band tickle the audience, while suggestive surnames (Whistler, Pickles, Snapper) stay true to the author’s intent with an English twist. The tone is sometimes political, particularly as Jon Trenchard’s Snapper threatens the citizens by alluding to ‘Quangos quaking in their boots.’ Religious undertones also emerge as Trenchard stretches his arms out in a Christ-like pose. This commentary is overrun by physical and spoken gags, which are nonetheless performed with dexterity.
Northern Broadsides present a fun-filled romp through this tale of grotesque characters attempting to cover up their misadventures. An often overlooked writer in present times, it is encouraging to see a company embrace all Gogol has to offer.