Much has been written since 1992 when director Stephen Daldry’s take of this classic JB Priestley play first opened at the National Theatre. Since then, it’s won a multitude of awards for its productions in the West End and on Broadway, and has been performed around the globe.
So with yet another new production opening at Birmingham Rep and touring until the end of June, does it still live up to expectation?
There’s no doubt that Daldry breathed new life into what remains one of the most popular plays in the amateur and professional canon. So much life that at times it’s easy to forget the now-familiar story, with all its twists and turns; to simply sit back and enjoy the sheer magic of what must surely be the definitive production.
Much of the awe is still due to designer Ian Macneil and his phenomenal set; with the grand Birling house perched, teetering, over a rain-soaked, cobblestoned gutter.
As the lush crimson and gold curtain rises to reveal the house, being lashed with rain against the sound of cackling laughter from the Birlings’ dinner party, it’s impossible not to be impressed.
To reveal more about the role of the set in the action would spoil the surprise, but suffice to say it echoes the journey of the family, and brings gasps of amazement from the audience.
In terms of performance, Nicholas Day’s Inspector Goole draws each member of the family out of the house and into the gutter as he forces them to examine their part in the horrific suicide of a young woman, a former member of the Birling workforce, turned prostitute, who has burned her insides out after downing a bottle of disinfectant.
Goole points the finger at the audience, with house lights up, as much as he does the family - a constant reminder that we all have a responsibility to and for each other.
Sandra Duncan is the matriarch from hell, setting herself on the highest pedestal and giving herself furthest to fall, while Katie McGuinness and Nick Barber learn their lessons fastest as the youngest members of the family.
But there are excellent performances throughout, and with a running time of just under two hours, it’s a joy to find there’s no interval to break the spell. As Priestley's original play reaches its 60th birthday, it remains a spine-tingling, uncomfortable yet mesmerising and enthralling classic. There aren’t enough superlatives in the book.
- Elizabeth Ferrie (reviewed at Birmingham Rep theatre)