Pros: Impressive direction, solid acting and an engaging script.
Cons: At times the volume of the music drowned out the actors.
It felt quite karmic, getting the opportunity to see and review An Inspector Calls. As a teenager, I dropped out of school and missed out on studying the play as so many of my peers did. I had assumed I wasn’t missing much, given the plot summaries I had heard, which suggested the play was an Agatha Christie-esque whodunnit. This revival of Stephen Daldry’s seminal National Theatre production at the Playhouse Theatre debunked my preconceptions almost immediately.
An Inspector Calls follows the Edwardian upper middle class Birling family during one fateful night as they are questioned by a mysterious inspector regarding the death of a working class factory girl. The production’s staging, even almost twenty five years after its premiere, felt radical. The Birling family’s stately home is made to resemble a lifesize dollhouse on stilts, lifted up from the floor of the stage. As the production progresses, the front of the dollhouse opens up. Members of the family descend from their charmed life inside their home to join Inspector Goole on the bleak, increasingly war-ravaged stage floor for questioning in connection with the death.
This heavily stylised production drills down into the play’s key issues of class, compassion and capitalism excellently. Written by Priestley during the 1940s, the play felt disturbingly timely today, especially as Inspector Goole ominously warned the audience that, if men do not learn compassion, they will be taught it through “blood and fire and anguish”.
The entire cast gave strong performances, but I was particularly impressed by Barbara Marten as the Birling matriarch, a witty but ultimately icy, Wildean character. I was also impressed by Carmela Corbett and Hamish Riddle (in his West End debut) who played the daughter and son of the family. Both were convincing in their change from arrogant and brattish to inconsolable and anguished upon realising their own lack of humanity and compassion.
The lighting and music were atmospheric, brooding and complemented the staging well. My only minor criticism would be that at times the music threatened to overwhelm the actors and I couldn’t make out some dialogue even from a fourth row seat. The play is relatively short and Daldry’s production has no interval, which helped to build tension and raise the stakes for both the characters and for the audience.
Like all good productions, Daldry has drilled down and identified the essence of Priestley’s play and isn’t precious about its period setting. I strongly recommend watching this well realised, powerful and disconcertingly topical production.
Author: J.B. Priestley
Director: Stephen Daldry
Producer: National Theatre and PW Productions Ltd
Booking Until: 4 February 2017
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking Link: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/an-inspector-calls/playhouse-theatre/