An Inspector Calls? Oh I know that play – we did it at school – it’s alright but a bit static and wordy isn’t it?”
Is that your view of An Inspector Calls? If that’s the case I advise you to get down to the Theatre Royal and take a look at Stephen Daldry’s production of the play.
John Boynton Priestley is considered one of the venerable writers of the theatre and his work is known by most people. An Inspector Calls is definitely a showcase for his political and social views – he was a fervent socialist, always very aware of social inequalities of our world, which he blamed for both world wars.
The play was first performed in 1945 although it is set pre-first world war. It tells the story of the Birling family – a privileged group of people who expect everything to be theirs. Whilst celebrating the engagement of their only daughter one evening Inspector Goole (brilliantly played by Tom Mannion calls at the door. He is apparently investigating the suicide of a young girl which has taken place earlier that same day.
The Inspector questions all the members of the family – Mr and Mrs Birling - played by Geoff Lesley and Karen Archer, their daughter Sheila - played by Kelly Hotten, their son Eric - played by Henry Gilbert, and Sheila’s fiancé Gerald Croft - played by John Sackville. They all deny any knowledge of the girl, and are totally disinterested in her story until they see her photo which the Inspector shows to them individually.
It then emerges that each of them has had some connection with the girl leading eventually to her destitution and so leaving her no option but suicide.
I must also mention Edna – played by Janie Booth - a character that is always there as a maid of all work – says nothing but one feels sees much. Good use is also made of a group of people who can only be described as observers from the future – in this case from the 1940’s – and are watching the action accusingly. We gather from this that Priestley had hoped that the inequalities of society would be leveled off in the next few years.
The action takes place in what can only be described as a dolls house on stilts. The front of the house opens and we see the characters coming out of the dolls house, and meeting the Inspector on the street below. The set designer is Ian MacNeil and his design is quite awesome, with overtones of Gothic style and an almost Hitchcock feel to it.
There is plenty of clever effects with sound and lighting from mists and rain falling to shattering blasts which seemed about to blow the house apart. The music by Stephen Warbeck is in keeping with the genre and provides just the right sort of eerie atmosphere. Stephen Daldry is certainly to be commended on his imaginative direction of this production.
Throughout the play you know that Priestley is trying to show the serious anomalies and injustices of our society – even in our justice system itself. The play may have been written in the 1940’s and set even earlier in 1912, but the message it contains is as fresh and relevant today as it ever was. Go and see for yourself.