10 June 2009 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Stephen Daldry’s celebrated production of J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls has transformed what was once an unfashionable rep standby into something urgent, innovative and exciting. It tells the tale of the complacent Birling household on one evening in 1912 when their family gathering is interrupted by the appearance of the enigmatic Inspector Goole and his investigation into the suicide of a young woman. As he begins his enquiries, a series of revelations reveal that they all are in some way implicated in her death, shattering their respectable façade and forcing us all to examine our own consciences.
The extraordinary set design and staging provide a nightmarish metaphorical landscape in which Priestley’s examination of society and responsibility can be played out. The expressionistic, out-of-proportion Birling residence stands on stilts amongst the debris and victims of an England ravaged by World War Two as the two times intersect. Daldry imagines the Inspector as a kind of time traveller, going back to the past to warn us of the consequences the kind of narrow-minded self-interest exhibited by the Birlings will lead to. The most visually stunning moment of the play comes as the house collapses just as the family’s appearance of outward irreproachability is shattered. Combined with the chilling musical score and the deft twists of the plot this creates an intensely atmospheric production that drives forward to the climax. The whole thing runs without an interval so the tension is unrelenting and it is a testament to the production that the audience remained gripped from beginning to end.
Of course, any production of
An Inspector Calls relies heavily on its eponymous inspector who must have the necessary gravitas to carry the show. I must admit that Louis Hilyer’s portrayal of the mysterious Inspector Goole was completely different to how I had envisioned him from my reading of the play but so enigmatic a part will no doubt give rise to vastly different interpretations. His Goole was an emotional and very human one, shifting from vitriol and anger to earnest supplication. To his credit, Goole’s departing didactic speech which could have been gratingly preaching was delivered as a sombre, direct and involving address to the audience. My only real quibble is that at times he did not project sufficiently, making it difficult to hear some of his lines.
The rest of the cast were also excellent with convincing and intelligent performances all round. Special mentions must go to
Sandra Duncan who was grotesquely funny as the bigoted, patronising Mrs Birling and to Marianne Oldham as the daughter, Sheila, whose character undergoes the biggest transformation during the course of the play from petty, self-centred girl to aware and remorseful young woman.
An Inspector Calls is an ambitious and very impressive production that delivers at all levels. From the opening cacophony of sinister notes and squealing air raid sirens and the very first glimpse of the bizarre Birling house through the rain and dry ice, you realise are witnessing something special which perhaps explains why this production still has a powerful hold over audiences even after more than fifteen years.
- Alice Fletcher
Related Content Back to Central Homepage
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p... Matilda on Broadway wins five Drama Desk Awards The Broadway transfer of Matilda The Musical has won five gongs at the 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards... Pulitzer winner : Islam is 'ripe territory' for drama Ayad Akhtar Ayad Akhtar's play Disgraced, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, receives its UK premiere ... Michael Coveney: New York honours Matilda with five big awards First blood in the New York awards contest went to Matilda last night, as the show walked off with... Opening: Relatively Speaking, Southwark Playhouse's Tanzi Libre & NT Shed's Bullet Catch Among this week's major London theatre openings, in the West End and further afield, are Relatively ... Young Vic's award-winning Doll's House transfers to West End Carrie Cracknell's critically acclaimed Young Vic production of A Doll's House, using an adaptatio... Let It Be extends booking at Savoy until Jan 2014 Let It Be, the concert show based on the music of The Beatles, has extended its run at the Savoy... West End gets Lucky with Tom Hanks? Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks is reportedly in talks to reprise his role in hit Broadway play Lucky ... Benedict Nightingale on judging the Bruntwood Prize Guest Blog: Former Times theatre critic Benedict Nightingale is among the judges of this year's Bruntwood Priz... : Theatre 'flops' ripe for reinvention Ten of the Best Defining a theatre 'flop' is no straightforward task. A general rule of thumb could be that it mak...