Northern Broadsides’ grand adaptation is a winner

Northern Broadsides present their latest social comedy The Grand Gesture at Harrogate Theatre.
Northern Broadsides present their latest social comedy The Grand Gesture at Harrogate Theatre.

Review by Rory Ffoulkes

Northern Broadsides presents The Grand Gesture, Harrogate Theatre.

Suicide, joblessness and despair may not seem like the most obvious subjects for comedy, but it is they that form the basis of the occasionally brilliant The Grand Gesture.

This is the second time, following last year’s truly excellent The Government Inspector, that Northern Broadsides has worked in partnership with Harrogate Theatre on a modern-day adaptation of a Soviet era play with a comic Northern England bent – and, again, absurdity lies at the heart of a play exploring themes still easily recognisable in today’s world.

Simeon Duff is at rock bottom. Without a job and having to rely on his wife’s income, he feels emasculated and desolate. When a crackpot scheme to make his mint predictably fails, he decides he has only one course open to him: suicide.

He’s a bit gutless, though, our Simeon. He can’t go through with it. Word gets round, however, that he intends to do himself in; and rather than rally round and attempt to lift him from the deepest depths of despair, a windbag intellectual, a priest, a femme fatale, a hedonist, a tub-thumping socialist, a sleazy landlord and a whole host of other undesirables each try to persuade him to carry out the act in a grand gesture to support their respective cause or interest. Though set in North West England with a Scouser – Simeon – as its protagonist, The Grand Gesture yet feels distinctly Russian.

The themes addressed here are larger than in The Government Inspector and, though it wouldn’t be right to say that the play gets bogged down in these, there are periods of this existential parable that would be more at home in the pages of a heavy tome than on stage.

Relief, though, comes in the form of regular laughs and its brilliant musical motifs.

The play also poses some striking questions in relation to the way society seems always to be on the lookout for a cause célèbre of some sort or another, and how we are wont to promote our own causes or interests by artificially creating martyrs for them.

Brilliantly acted and visually arresting - with the Vorticist-manner set at its heart – this play bridges the gap between intellectual and musical theatre in the way only Northern Broadsides can and is as challenging or as breezy a theatrical a stage production as the individual theatregoer chooses to make it.

I’d be lying if I said Ienjoyed it as much as I did The Government Inspector, but the laughter ringing around the theatre would suggest that Harrogate cherishes Northern Broadsides and will welcome the company back with open arms the next time it stages a production here. As would I.

The Grand Gesture runs at Harrogate Theatre until Saturday, September 21.