Writer: JB Priestley
Director: Stephen Daldry
Stephen Daldry’s visionary reimagining of JB Priestly’s moral mystery thriller, comes to the theatre Royal and wows a Brighton audience with its darkly atmospheric stage design and tense score.
As the play opens, rain falls heavily on gloomy, cobbled streets. It is England in 1910s. The Birling family are having a celebratory engagement meal at home for their daughter Shelia (Chloe Orrock). The head of the family, Arthur (Jeffrey Harmer), is in ebullient mood. His business is going well, he is a well respected member of the community and is about to welcome an influential son-in-law into the fold. Life seems on the up and up. However, the revelry and self-congratulatory ambience is soon shattered when an inspector calls to implicate everyone in the room of playing a hand in the death of a young women. The accusation leads to arguments, in-fighting and terrible secrets revealed within the family unit, as the inspector skilfully interrogates each suspect in turn, in order to expose the truth.
Priestley, an ardent socialist, had travelled England in 1934 to document the plight of the working people amidst the depression. An Inspector Calls reflects on the struggles communities and individuals faced and the gulf he saw between the rich and poor throughout that journey. It places a moral spotlight on greed and the way each and every one of us has an obligation to be thoughtful, kind and to think not only of themselves, but their fellow human being in an unbalanced society.
Written in 1945, but set more than thirty years earlier, the piece draws upon the optimism of a post-war era where all things are possible; the world may be unjust and lopsided now, but we can change it. The themes remain as relevant today as they were seventy-five years ago; sadly the global population has become more polarised and the wealth gap increased since.
While the subject remains as present, the often clunky dialogue and unsubtle lecturing nature of the piece has not fared as well. A large swathe of the dialogue is a shouty argument, set at an EastEnders tone, which, although very skilfully acted, becomes grating at points.
There are wonderful performances, particularly by Orrock, as the conflicted daughter, who sees the error of her ways, and Christine Kavanagh as the proud and haughty mother (Sybil); the Mrs Bucket of her age. Kavanagh manages to bring out some good laughs from the text as well as serious moments of depth. Her excellent physicality adds perfectly to the absurdity of Sybil’s condescending character.
Liam Brennan paces the indefatigable Inspector Goole very well; garnering laughter with his high class bluster and drawing the audience in at moments of tension and revelation.
The biggest star of the show is the set, designed by Ian MacNeil. The family home, raised above the heads of those watching, creates an impressively brooding atmosphere in the auditorium; it becomes a cast member in its own right, and shifts and turns in a sinister way. The score also heightens the edginess of the piece well.
Despite the failings of the script, the cast are excellent and the look and feel of the eerie play makes it worth a watch.