Writer: Nikolai Gogol
Director: Conrad Nelson
Reviewer: Sally Cinnamon
Gogol’s original dark masterpiece holds a mirror up to the corruption in the Russia he found himself in. Disgusted with the bureaucrats and their propensity to succeed among decent folk, the writer makes us, his audience, culpable. No matter how many continents one crosses, how much time passes (bearing in mind the play was first published in 1836), it’s still a frighteningly accurate account.
Deborah McAndrew’s adaptation for the Northern Broadsides and Harrogate Theatre production is a witty affair moving the action from the Russian capital to a small Pennine town with brass band to boot. The shift works well with leader of the council, Tony Belcher (the most excellent Howard Chadwick) now an incompetent, greedy Yorkshire man with aspiring, hateful wife, Annie (Susie Emmett) and spoilt daughter, Mary (Jill Cardo).
Everything runs just tickety-boo in the town – corruption lies around every corner. However, what form this actually takes is never quite explained. No one’s happy but everyone accepts until the foppish Snapper (Jon Trenchard) arrives and is mistaken for a government inspector up from that there London.
Conrad Nelson’s direction is almost faultless. He’s created an ensemble par excellence. There isn’t a weak link in the whole proceedings (the very fact that all the performers are polymaths – actors, musicians, even dancers is impressive alone) but what should dig a little deeper; should be a little more squirm-inducing could be more accurate a depiction of our current climate. With The Thick Of It and Yes Minister satirising the incompetence’s of Westminster with quick-fire pace and acerbic bite, this adaptation feels frothy and unchallenging.
Our most famous satirist, Oscar Wilde said, ‘if you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh.’ McAndrew could have twisted the knife a little deeper in her adaptation and I’m sure, with it, we would have laughed a little harder.