An Inspector Calls, J B Priestley
Runs: 1h 50m: no interval: till 15 February
A less than great rendering of the classic production.
For the umpteenth time, the Stephen Daldry 1992 production of An Inspector Calls comes to Nottingham’s Theatre Royal. To the hardened reviewer it might seem a trifle tired, but not so to the packed audience on press night.
Ian MacNeil’s ingeniously expressionist set still has the power to surprise. And besides its more important merits, the play still functions as an excellent thriller, with Inspector Goole summoning each character in turn out of his/her smug little world to do his breaking down.
Inside the house it’s 1912. Outside in the rainy street it’s the wartime 1940s, when Priestley wrote the play; the guilty people are being beckoned from their own era to face the judgement of the next generation.
Every visual feature does multi-level work. The ruined house at the end is a bricks and mortar casualty of WWII, but it’s also symbolic of the discredited Edwardian social order and the shattered complacency of the play’s characters. At the outset the street-children in an air-raid are victims of the power-wielders of an earlier era. Later the group of bystanders watching the action are Priestley’s free community of the British people united in a common purpose. The only un-self-conscious humanity in the play comes from them.
It’s a powerful message. We’ve got to ditch the dog-eat-dog approach. All of us must live our lives with an awareness of The Common Good, of our interdependence and moral responsibility for one another. It isn’t, as some still plead, an anti-Thatcher diatribe. Whether or not Priestley realised, it contains the essence of, for instance, Catholic Social Teaching.
Inspector Goole is a Scot, ideal for an integrity figure. But sadly, Liam Brennan (actually a fine actor) is still delivering an over-shouty performance. And there’s a moment of eroticism between him and Sheila (Chloe Orrock), which is compelling but surely contextually inappropriate – unless, as is arguable, it helps to show Sheila in a favourable light.
Orrock, along with Jeffrey Harmer (Arthur Birling) and Alasdair Buchan (Gerald Croft), gives one of the most measured and tasteful performances in the play. Those of Christine Kavanagh (Sybil) and Ryan Saunders (Eric) are so over-emphatic as to cause the play near the end to lapse into melodrama.
Since the action happens in real time, there’s, rightly, no interval.
Inspector Goole: Liam Brennan
Sybil Birling: Christine Kavanagh
Arthur Birling: Jeffrey Harmer
Gerald Croft: Alasdair Buchan
Sheila Birling: Chloe Orrock
Eric Birling: Ryan Saunders
Edna: Emma Cater
Younger Boy: Rowan O’Driscoll-Besh
Girl: Felicity Holman
Older Boy: Mustafa Bukhari
Director: Stephen Daldry
Designer: Ian MacNeil
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Sound: Sebastian Frost