Sometimes when plays get transposed across time and space it can feel awkward, unnecessary – a needless effort to titivate, update and uproot foe the benefit of that elusive phenomenon, the modern audience.

This Northern Boradsides production imagines Gogol’s timeless play about corruption, greed and hubris in a remote Russian village is taking place in a remote Pennine town, so remote even the residents don’t know whether they’re in Lancashire or Yorkshire.

The town’s councillors and bigwigs are all on the make – and on the take – in their own ways, but the arrival of a government inspector is about to turn their crooked world upside down.

But while the town’s leaders think they’ve bribed their way out of trouble, they’ve simply been lining the leaky pockets of Jonathan Alexander Snapper, a minor factotum and professional blusterer.

It has to be said, as adaptations go, A Government Inspector works wonderfully in its new setting; Gogol’s observations on the nature of power and corruption surviving the transplant superbly – and a hefty dose of that original absurdity in place.

Perhaps things hover on the edge sometimes, but this is broad farce carried off with real conviction and aplomb – the addition of brass band serving to break up scenes and to represent minor players in the proceedings.

The music also gives a fairly authentic flavour, though while the spirit of Royston Vasey lives in the performances there’s a hefty dose of Wallace And Gromit; there’s a hyperreality to it all that doesn’t feel unnatural in the world of Council Leader Belcher, Amos Fudge and the ‘Bottoms (Side and Long).

When the preening, swaggering and throughly disreputable Snapper things turn up a notch – he’s a camp, weaselly and not-wholly unlikeable minor rogue and Jon Trenchard’s energetic performance wows the audience as much as the provincial councillors. Elsewhere Howard Chadwick is totally believable as the crooked Belcher, all false bonhomie and windy obsequiousness.

But really this is an ensemble effort, with virtually everyone doubling up on roles and all the players picking up various brass throughout the play. The bickering between the council types is rather wonderful; the interplay between Snapper and his manservant amuses; and the Belcher family affairs as sharp and sour as any soap opera.

Things threaten to sag a little in the first half, but never look back afterwards. A Government Inspector has silly puns, sight gags and OTT performances but it amounts to a lovely comedy of errors with familiar archetypes in a recognisable setting that belies the age and origins of the source material.

A Government Inspector
Liverpool Playhouse
Until 17 November

Pic: Nobby Clark

2 Responses to “Review: A Government Inspector”

  1. After seeing Accidental Death a few years ago I was really looking forward to Northern Broadside’s latest offering. However I found the cutting edge wit and satire had lapsed into dated slapstick and Carry On style humour. The performances are not lacking in the slightest, but the script, especially the gags, just do not resonate. The characters are more Last of the Summer Wine than Royston Vasey.
    I found that there was no subtlety whatsoever in any of the themes which is epitomised in the moment council leader Belcher informs the audience they are laughing into a mirror.
    If you like your humour brash, crude and outdated then you may find this production enjoyable. If, like me, were hoping for something modern and intelligent with some satirical bite then you will be left disappointed.

  2. Certainly if that stuff isn’t your thing you’re not likely to enjoy it. I don’t think it worked especially well as a satire – that moment when Belcher addressed the crowd didn’t really work – but I found it enjoyable at face value. And the original play is pretty surreal in fairness, too.

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