An Inspector Calls (Southwold, Summer Theatre)

Thirty years after the Jill Freud Company first staged JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls in Southwold (just before its author’s death), it has returned to the theatre, now under the management of Suffolk Summer Theatres, in a new production by Richard Frost. This is one of only two new productions licensed for professional performance since the National Theatre’s 1992 expressionist production.

Michael Shaw and Terry Molloy
Michael Shaw and Terry Molloy

Like all good plays, this 1946 exploration of cause and effect doesn’t date. Priestley set his drama just before the First World War in the north of England. Frost’s naturalistic production keeps the time and place and lets the elaborate dinner-table which is the centre of Maurice Rubens’ set make a point about self-complacent new money.

Terry Molloy as Arthur Birling suggests the ruthlessness under the veneer of middle-class respectability; his wife Sybil (Dorothy Lawrence) and daughter Sheila (Kate Middleton) are cut from a finer cloth. Sybil is an interesting character, and Middleton brings out her charm as well as her inherent impulsiveness. Another well thought-out performance is that of Iain Ridley as her brother Eric, a young man reacting against his father’s diktat that he shall join the family firm – and do precisely as his elders tell him.

Sheila’s fiancé (their engagement is the occasion for the dinner-party) is Gerald Croft, from a longer-established family. Peter Hoggart suggests why women find him a sympathetic character. Sympathetic, of course, is not a word you would apply to Goole, the title character, in his dealings with the Birlings. Michael Shaw has the authority with a hint of coming from another place to make his two great speeches on responsibility drive home.