AN INSPECTOR CALLS
by J.B. Priestley.
The Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London WC2N 5DE to 4 February 2017.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Wed & Thu 2.30pm Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hrs No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7631.
Review: William Russell 12 November.
Don’t bother to knock.
There comes a time when even the most faithful of household companions should be put down and that time has come for this once sensational production by Stephen Daldry of Priestley’s splendid play.
It opened at the National Theatre 25 years ago, went on to run for eight years in the West End and most recently has toured extensively. The cast in this latest manifestation is very capable, but what once seemed exciting and inspired now seems stale, predictable and occasionally downright slipshod.
Clive Francis is splendid as Arthur Birling, the greedy, bigoted mill owner with a wastrel son, a spoilt bitch daughter, and a stuck up wife whose sacking of a mill hand who had taken t part in a strike sets a train of events in motion which leads to some agonised soul searching and disaster. But he talks with one accent, the rest of the family have been nowhere near the Midlands in their lives, while his snobbish wife, played by Barbara Marten would be more at home in Downton than in some leafy suburb of Priestley’s fictional town.
Daldry’s inspiration was to take a traditionally constructed play set in the Birling’s mansion in 1912, a West End piece in every sense, and place the action in a dolls house centre stage just large enough to allow the cast to sit inside which was surrounded with a wartime wasteland. As they bickered and confessed it was all to clear that Armageddon was imminent. This added all sorts of insights into what had been considered really just a well made play about the hypocrisy of a class – the backbone of the Empire in their eyes – Priestley was attacking.
The family is celebrating the engagement of the daughter to a wealthy businessman when an Inspector Goole investigating the case of a young woman who has committed suicide comes to call. Liam Brennan, sounding like an escapee from Taggart, is a slightly underpowered tormentor as he manages to extract from each in turn just what part they played in the dead girl’s life. But is he really a policeman? Who or what is he?
At the climax the Birlings’ world literally comes tumbling down, although what was originally shocking and horrifying, the arrival of the apocalypse – Priestley was a major figure on the left for decades, something now forgotten pretty well – just looks like some ramshackle scenery finally giving up the ghost. It is no reflection on the players, but the time to have a new look at the play and put this one out of its misery has come.
Inspector Goole: Liam Brennan.
Arthur Birling: Clive Francis.
Sybil Birling: Barbara Marten.
Gerald Croft: Matthew Douglas.
Sheila Birling: Carmela Corbett.
Eric Birling: Hamish Riddle.
Edna: Diana Payne- Myers.
Director: Stephen Daldry.
Designer: Ian MacNeil.
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher.
Music: Stephen Warbeck.
Sound: Sebastian Frost.
Resident Director: Charlotte Peters.
Fight Director: Terry King.