Critical of the actions, attitude, and ignorance of the aristocracy, you could make the argument for Stephen Daldry’s revival of J.B. Priestly’s much acclaimed play An Inspector Calls being as much a criticism of today’s society as of the Edwardian/Victorian world it was originally written about.
Originally written between 1944-1945, Priestly’s play follows the Birling’s, a prosperous family celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila (Katherine Jack) to fellow member of the elite Gerald Croft (Matthew Douglas). Their evening, however, is interrupted by the arrival of Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan) and slowly their world begins to unravel.
Having walked into the theatre to see An Inspector Calls on the advice of a friend who studied it, I was completely unsure of what to expect, only that I expected it to be good. In fact, it ended up being all of that and more – although not without its flaws.
The opening was strange. With the action hidden from the audience, the director decided to have a young boy and girl on the stage, presumably to keep our focus. If anything, this provided a distraction though with some of the early dialogue – though not pivotal to the plays progress – lost. Despite this the play went from strength to strength, which was mainly down to the individual talent of the actors rather than anything else; whoever was the casting director really outdid themselves with this show.
Usually you have an obvious stand-out actor or actress but, on that stage, I watched seven stars. Liam Brennan’s Inspector Goole had you hanging on his every word, Katherine Jack had you fall in love with Sheila Birling time and time again, whilst Hamish Riddle’s performance as the guilt-ridden, alcoholic Eric Birling was one that should be analysed closely for anyone hoping to forge a career in the theatre. On top of this you had solid showings by Matthew Douglas and Geoff Leesley (Mr Birling) with Caroline Wildi doing her best to remind us of Cruela de Vil with her portrayal of the vindictive Mrs Birling. Diana Payne-Mears may not take the plaudits like the rest of the cast, but her role as Edna should not be underestimated, breaking the piece up with some much needs moments of comic relief with her hustling, bustling and no-nonsense attitude.
The design team did a quite staggering job with the set as well. A beautifully, intricate creation that you couldn’t help but marvel at, but which also brought into question some of Daldry’s decisions. This was no more obvious than the ‘destruction’ of the house, a physical representation of the Birling families gradual descent into self-destruction, but one that was ultimately unnecessary.
I have to admit, I wasn’t keen on the ending. It left me with more questions than answers and, personally, I’m not a fan of that. I’m not a fan of ‘not-knowing’ – I like working things out. Even still, I can’t hold that against anyone on the stage and it does stand up to scrutiny since it helps reinforce one of the several political and social messages in the play; all actions have consequences and if we deny their existence we will suffer all the more for it.
Perhaps politicians should make the trip to their local theatre when An Inspector Calls visits them. After all, it will probably do them some good. They, more than many in Britain’s current climate, need to be reminded that all actions have consequences.
A must see show, you will kick yourself if you miss out. Although, try to avoid a night that has the GCSE students out in force, they can prove to be rather… frustrating.