From Russia with gloves off as Settlement Players run riot in Government Inspector

Director Alan Park, back row, right, and his ensemble cast for Government Inspector at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York. Picture: John Saunders

THEATRE@41 chair and actor Alan Park is in the director’s seat for the first time in 15 years, steering the York Settlement Community Players through the Russian political quagmire of Government Inspector.

David Harrower’s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s satirical exposé of hypocrisy and corruption in high places will run from tomorrow at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, where Park’s ensemble cast of eccentrics will undertake a fun, chaotic journey through 1980s’ Soviet Russia in a plot rooted in a simple case of mistaken identity.

“Communism is collapsing, it’s every man, woman and dog for themselves. What could possibly go wrong?” asks Alan, as the bureaucrats of a small Russian town are sent into a panic by news of the government inspector’s imminent arrival.

Harrower’s version premiered at the Warwick Arts Centre in May 2011 and transferred to the Young Vic, London, later that year. Now it provides “the perfect platform” for Settlement Players’ 14-strong ensemble.

”Directing this production came out of me having performed Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing with Settlement at the Theatre Royal Studio in February,” says Alan.

“I enjoyed the acting company, the production team and the whole creative process so much that when the call-out came for a director this autumn, I was keen to do a play with lots of actors.

“There are some incredibly talented actors in York, and I wanted to do something that would bring the best out of them as an ensemble, playing loads of parts, and I needed a play that would facilitate that.”

Gogol’s Government Inspector was suggested to him, and once he came across Harrower’s adaptation, it was the perfect fit. “David’s version is fun, it’s fast-moving; the dialogue zips along, and it really lends itself to these 14 actors, who have created the community of this Russian town, where they are all out for their own interests only…and then discover the government inspector is coming to town,” says Alan.

He last directed a play in his professional acting days in London, where he ran workshops and oversaw youth productions. “I’ve been looking to do something for a while, but there has never been the window of opportunity, as I have a full-time job as well as running Theatre@41 and performing in plays.” He is a father too. “My kids look at me and wonder who I am!” he says.

He has revelled in directing Harrower’s script. “I looked at a few adaptations as I wanted to find a good translation, and this one stood out. Julian Barratt, from The Mighty Boosh, was in the Young Vic production, and this was the script that I couldn’t put down. It told the plot really well and suited what I wanted to do.”

Going flat out: York Settlement Community Players’ cast members in rehearsal for this week’s riotous production of Government Inspector. Director Alan Park looks on, left. Picture: John Saunders

Settlement Players’ staging of Government Inspector comes against the backdrop of Putin’s stultifying dictatorship and warmongering. “We can’t get away from it being a Russian play! It’s a great satire on Russia, and there’s never been a better time to poke fun at what Russia still appears to stand for.

“Harrower has set it in the late-1980s, when everything was crumbling in Russia, and if we’re making any comment on Russia, it is that the whole thing is ridiculous. There’s no way anyone would think that the Russian way is the best way forward.”

Rather than attempting Russian accents, Alan has encouraged his cast members to use their own accents. “I was inspired to do that by the Chernobyl TV series,” he says.

In choosing that cast, Alan was keen to avoid holding auditions with three faces staring out from behind a desk. “Instead we had workshops, playing games, and went from there,” he says.

“There will be familiar actors, but not necessarily in familiar roles, like Andrew Roberts, who’s not done big roles before, playing Khlestakov [the inspector’s role]. Mike Hickman, who was in The Real Thing, is a fabulously instinctive performer, who just gets it straightway, and he’s perfect for the Mayor, who’s losing his grip on everything and gradually losing control.

“He’s also a massive fan of Tony Hancock, who appeared in The Government Inspector in 1958, and so he’s delighted to be doing this play.”

Adam Sowter and Florence Poskett, from the York musical comedy duo Fladam, have amusing cameo roles as the Police Superintendent and Mishka respectively, while University of York drama student Katie Leckey will bring her physical comedy skills to Dobchinsky and Pearl Mollison steps out from the wings to play the Mayor’s daughter after several years of stage managing shows.

Musical director Jim Paterson will lead a live band, made up of cast members, such as Matt Pattison on guitar, Sowter on keyboards and Poskitt on accordion, through a liberal dose of Eighties’ rock ballads.

Judith Ireland’s costume designs, all Eighties’ tracksuits, suits and shoulder pads, will complement a Brutalist set of grey blocks and faded Russian graffiti.

“My main aim is that the production should be actor led, and I’m always keen for a set to let the actors do what they want,” says Alan. “That’s why there’ll just be the blocks, and slogans on every wall, with Russian propaganda to represent the decaying town.”

York Settlement Community Players in Government Inspector, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow (24/10/2023) to Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office:

Normal service resumed as Henry sits down for night of relaxed, thoughtful poetry that’s easier on the legs at Selby Town Hall

In the red chair: Poet, storyteller and comedian Henry Normal

ARMED only with a chair, a microphone, stories, jokes and poems, Henry Normal takes on the world at Selby Town Hall on October 22, looking for a win-win situation.

Writer, poet, TV and film producer, Manchester Literature Festival founder and BAFTA-winning BBC Radio 4 perennial, Normal will be delivering his Sit Down Poetry show at 8pm.

“Henry Normal is a magnificent, idiosyncratic chronicler of the quotidian,” says Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones. “He delivers understated, wryly observed yet incredibly powerful poems from the heart with a wonderfully warm and easy style. We’re honoured to be hosting one of just a handful of tour dates he’s undertaking across the country this autumn.”

Labelled “the Alan Bennett of poetry” by the Scotsman newspaper, Normal has written and presented nine of his own comedy, poetry and storytelling shows for BBC Radio 4, the latest being this summer’s series A Normal Community.

For television, he co-wrote and script-edited The Mrs Merton Show and the first series of The Royle Family. Alongside Steve Coogan, he co-wrote the BAFTA-winning Paul And Pauline Calf Video Diaries, Coogan’s Run, Tony Ferrino, Doctor Terrible and all three of Coogan’s live tours.

In 1990, Normal set up comedy production company Baby Cow, executive producing the entire output while at the helm, with highlights including Gavin And Stacey, Alan Partridge, Marion And Geoff, Nighty Night, The Mighty Boosh, Red Dwarf and the Oscar-nominated film Philomena. In 2017, he was honoured with a special BAFTA for services to television.

Born in St Anne’s, Nottingham, Normal now lives in Fairlight, near Hastings, with his wife, screenwriter Angela Pell, and their artist son, Johnny. He performs at literature festivals across the UK and has published 11 poetry collections, while his memoirs, A Normal Family, were an Amazon best seller.

He has been given honorary doctorates by both Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities and has a beer and a bus named after him in the city, where he founded the Nottingham Poetry Festival.

Praised by the Guardian for work that is “succinct, heartrending and peppered with gentle punchlines”, “stuff of proper substance, marrying the suburban beauty of Beatles ballads with the blunt candour of the kitchen sink”, Normal describes new show Sit Down Poetry as being “like stand-up poetry but more thoughtful and relaxed and easier on the legs”.

“I’ve been looking forward to this one for a good while,” concludes Chris Jones. “It’s definitely a highlight of our autumn programme.”

Tickets cost £15 on 01757 708449 or at