What do you get when you mix a 19th century Russian comedy with a brass band? Laura Davis finds out
WHEN Deborah McAndrew imagines the unscrupulous characters of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, they are not buttoned up against a Russian freeze but a West Yorkshire chill.
With a father who worked as an officer for various local councils, in her mind the fictional corrupt officials have always populated the corridors of Leeds Town Hall rather than a pre-revolution backwater.
She is therefore the right choice for the writer of Northern Broadside’s new production of the play, which they insisted must be contemporary, spoken in Northern English vernacular and feature a brass band.
“The first time I read it I thought ‘ah yes, I recognise this world’,” says the former Coronation Street actor (she played Angie Freeman from 1990-98).
“I guess in my little mind as a child I’d imagined these men – they mostly were men in local government in the 60s and 70s – in their dusty offices that hadn’t changed since the 1930s, and that fitted in with what I read in the play.”
In Gogol’s comedy, written in 1836, a police chief interceptes a letter that reveals a government inspector is to visit his town. When Khlestakov, a well-dressed young man, arrives, it is assumed he is the official and he is welcomed with bribes and even an invitation to woo the police chief’s daughter.
“I don’t think it’s particuarly having a pop at local government, it’s having a go at anyone and everyone who’s ever taken a backhander,” says McAndrew.
“In these little dark corners where people aren’t properly scrutinised and where the done thing is to turn a blind eye and take a brown envelope, that’s what happens and a culture of corruption grows up – in any situation. It could be the drug-taking culture of certain athletes.
“People will do what they can get away with, like with the MPs’ expenses. If you can get away with claiming for a duck pond why wouldn’t you?”
Several books later, when his zest for writing began to desert him, Gogol became obsessed with the desire to live a spiritually pure life. He began praying excessively, fasting and carrying out various extreme escetic practices.