Unready for inspection (left to right): Kern Falconer, Tom Watson, Ian McDiarmid, Peter Kelly and Brian Pettifer
The Slav boys
A classic Russian comedy finds contemporary resonances in a new Scots version by John Byrne. But that's beside the point, says leading actor IAN MCDIARMID. Words: Andrew Burnet
Sleaze and corruption. Backhanders and jobs for the boys. Embezzlement and abuse of power. A Scottish town council'.’ Never!
Actually. John Byrne‘s new Scots version of The Government Inspector — which comes to Edinburgh this fortnight — is set. like Nikolai Gogol’s original, in l91h century Russia. But the story centres on a small town. whose public officials throw themselves into a frenzy of cover-ups and bribery when they learn about the imminent arrival of an Inspector from St Petersburg. It requires a remote setting; parochial and inward-looking; grossly in awe of the centralised power.
It could be read as a highly politicised statement about Scotland. but that would be to
‘We're not making points about contemporary Scotland. We just play the play for what it is -— a
in The Government Inspector
play the play for what it is — a play for any time and a great comedy.’
Which it certainly becomes in these hands. Director Jonathan Kent (who shares with McDiarmid the Almeida’s artistic leadership) rides Byme’s script like a master cowboy on a prime bronco. stabilising but never stifling its energy, allowing it to prance and career around Rob Howell’s gloriously rickety set.
This couldn’t have been achieved without a terrific cast. English actor Tom Hollander gives a virtuoso performance as Khelstakov, the strutting young prig mistaken by the townspeople for the Inspector, who heartlessly denudes them of their money and dignity. His servant Osip — the play’s soundest character — is a laconic Brian Murphy of George And Mildred fame.
The other members of the eighteen-strong company are almost all Scots. Familiar names like Tom Watson, Stuart McQuarrie, Moray Hunter, Kathryn Howden and Terry Neason pepper the cast list. It may be surprising to find major Scottish actors playing minor parts; but then starry casting is nothing new at the Almeida. The 300-seat theatre, which pays its actors a ﬂat weekly wage of £225, famously presented Ralph Fiennes in Chekhov’s Ivanov while The English Patient — in which he starred — was winning Oscars. Cast members this season include Juliette Binoche, Liam Neeson
miss the point. [an _ and Kevin Spacey. So how do McDiarmid. who plays the play for any time and a great they do it?
Lord Provost — a fetid comedyf km McDiarmid ‘lt is relatively simple.’ concoction of weasel cunning. claims McDiarmid.
cowardice and vanity — is joint artistic director at London’s Almeida Theatre. which commissioned and staged the show. ‘We don‘t really choose plays for political reasons.‘ he explains. ‘We choose them because we think they‘re fantastically good.’ Perhaps as a result of McDiarmid’s Dundonian origins. Scotland emerged as an appropriate setting, ‘because it‘s a long way from the seat of the power, which is the point in the play.’
McDiarmid invited Byrne to convert a literal translation into a fully functioning playscript, an opportunity Byrne ‘fell on with relish,’ he says. The result is a colourful. free adaptation, teeming with the lurid banter that makes Byrne’s original work — The Slab Boys. Tutti Frutti. Your Cheatin ' Heart — so full of life.
‘We don’t make any tendentious points about contemporary Scotland.‘ McDiarmid stresses. ‘We just
‘Presumably in common with all other theatres we try to get the best people we can. We just ask them and they don’t always say yes; but they say, ‘well, try me later‘; and if it’s the right play at the right time they do 1t.’
Ultimately, what makes the Almeida company attractive to actors and audiences alike is an unmistakable whiff of quality and seriousness. That and the sense of fun evident in this show. ‘I think some people — people who are looking for ideologies or, God forbid. social realism - will be confounded by this play.’ says McDiarmid. ‘lt doesn’t offer any psychology. But at the end of the play. my character says, “How could I be such an eejit??” And the answer is, well, very easily; and we still are.’
The Government Inspector is at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 3-Sat 7 Feb.
Stage whispers More idle chit-chat from behind the
DISASTER WAS AVERTED for Edinburgh's Grid Iron Theatre Company, when someone smelled gas in the nick of time. A dangerous leak was discovered just ten minutes before technical crew were to light naked flames for The Bloody Chamber, the company's successful show at Mary King's Close. Lucky, no doubt - but Grid Iron had to refund disappointed ticket-holders for two sell-out performances, wiping out a slender profit margin and leaving the company in debt. With a planned London transfer in jeopardy, Grid Iron is desperately seeking funds. Kindly benefactors should contact Judith Doherty on 0131 558 1879.
BETTER NEWS for Glasgow's NVA Organisation. The hi-tech performance company has been appointed to produce the National Day For Britain at the Lisbon Expo 98. NVA's big day is 28 June, and will feature a Royal Gala concert of music inspired by the sea; a Midsummer Fire Festival and Blast Off— a celebration of UK club culture.
AMDRAM RECRUITMENT DRIVES are under way in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. Anyone over 16 is invited to apply for a part in Eastwood Entertainers‘ spring production of the classic musical Fiddler On The Roof. Contact Helen Burton, 0141 638 2819; or Jim Milroy, 0141 639 5971. Edinburgh Youth Theatre also has vacancies for new members in the 14—25 age range. Workshops -— led by seasoned professionals — are held twice weekly ; and a production is planned for the spring. Turn up at St Oswald’s, Bruntsfield on Tuesday or Friday, 7.30—9.30pm , or call Simon Stuart for details on 0378 580 001.
YOUNG WRITERS are also being encouraged. The Traverse Young Writers' Group has been working for a year with writers aged 15-23; and you can see the fruits of their work at the Traverse on Sat 24 January. The performance is called First Bite, and includes five or six pieces, per-formed by professional actors. It could be your chance to discover the next major Scottish playwriting.
Bloody hell: Grid Iron considers its next move after the gas disaster
23 Jan-5 Feb 1998 TIIELISTBS