AN INSPECTOR CALLS
by J B Priestley.
Theatre By The Lake Lakeside CA12 5DJ In rep to 6 November 2013.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 017687 74411.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 August.
Powerful play treated with originality and respect.
As Keswick’s programme notes, J B Priestley’s play was first presented in an experimental staging in Russia during 1945. Its British premiere the following year was more realistic, though the Birlings’ walls were suggestive of blood. The most famous modern production is Stephen Daldry’s inventively unrealistic account, first seen in 1989 at York Theatre Royal. Yet the Late Bernard Miles’ 1973 production at his Mermaid Theatre was both riveting and realistic.
Priestley’s gift was to intermix the everyday with a sense of larger forces shaping human society. Martin Johns’ Keswick design mixes 1912 reality and this larger sense. A central diamond-shape for the action is surrounded by suspended structures suggesting the manufacturing from which Arthur Birling has made his fortune but which overwhelms the ordinary worker.
It’s here Mary Papadima’s production has Isabella Marshall enact an opening dumb-show representing the history of Eva Smith, whose death comes to involve the entire family, along with Gerald Croft, whose engagement to Sheila Birling is being celebrated.
It’s an opening unlikely to mean anything to people new to the play, and merely tell older-hands what they already know. More poignant are later moments when ‘Eva’ appears in ghostly lighting at the sides, as some characters recall or try to form a connection with her.
One by one, the characters’ assurance is undermined by Inspector Goole’s surprise visit. Among a cast with no weak link Peter Macqueen’s Goole stands out with his precise official manner, never pushing the more emotional speeches, and delivering the climactic social prophecy with deadly effect, despite it being said (in utter contrast to Daldry’s production) in a quiet voice as Goole turns away to leave.
And Roger Delves-Broughton brings a devastating originality to Arthur Birling. In place of the usual know-all booming confidence there’s a cheery assumption in his view things can only get better. For once, this dinner-party has the feel of a real celebration.
His hint of Cossack dance-steps as he refers to backward Russia emphasises the humour, while Delves-Broughton marks the gradual change to anger and defensiveness in a performance which makes this essential Lakeland viewing.
Sheila Birling: Laura Darrell.
Arthur Birling: Roger Delves-Broughton.
Gerald Croft: Richard Galazka.
Inspector Goole: Peter Macqueen.
Edna: Isabella Marshall.
Eriv Birling: Peter McGovern.
Sybil Birling: Maggie O’Brien.
Director: Mary Papadima.
Designer/Costume: Martin Johns.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound/Vomposer: Richard Hammarton.
Fight director: Peter Macqueen.