AN INSPECTOR CALLS is the well known classic by J. B. Priestly which is a popular text studied at schools for GCSE’s. Stephen Daldry directed the show at the National Theatre in 1992 and then on the more recent 2011 UK tour. The show is now revived in the West End for a limited season and I went along to check it out.
A family are celebrating an engagement when suddenly a man named Inspector Goole descends on the house and proceeds to interrogate each member of the family over the death of a young factory worker. At first the family laugh it off as a mistake but as the evening draws on, the family realise they all had a part to play in this young ladies death and skeletons leap out of the family closet.
The show opens with a dinner party going on inside a house. The audience can only hear muffled talking until eventually the set opens up and reveals the people inside (much like one of those children’s toy doll houses that open up to reveal a home). The set design is less than impressive and looks like it was designed in the era the play is set, with ropes being pulled to open doors and tiny windows the actors have to crawl through. The costumes weren’t vibrant and colourful as you would hope for a west end show but bland and dull. I would have expected more production values from a director who’s most recent work can be seen in the gorgeous Neflix series The Crown.
As Sybil Birling, Barbara Marten is good but doesn’t shine the way she did in the recent smash hit, National Theatre production of PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS. Equally, Clive Francis (as Arthur Birling), Matthew Douglas (Gerald Croft) and Carmela Corbett (Sheila Birling) give lacklusture performances and their characters at times verge on boring and annoying. Hamish Riddle (Eric Birling) brings some much needed comic relief to the play as the alcoholic womaniser who just wants to drink in order to forget. Liam Brennan (Inspector Goole) gives a wholesome performance as the detective who sets out to make the family question their morals. He delivers the lines with strong confidence that would make anyone feel at ease if being questioned by him. The ensemble for this show are rather redundant, have little or nothing to contribute to the pice and poor Diana Payne-Myers barely leaves the stage as Edna but has little to do other than scurry around moving furniture.
AN INSPECTOR CALLS has been a timeless classic since it was first performed in 1945 because it makes us consider the consequences of our actions in life and social classes. However, this production looked and felt like it has been pulled out of the dark ages and it’s rickety set and bleak production values made it anything other than exciting. Back in the 90’s, the production was classed as ‘fresh and radical’ but sadly this version is just ‘dull and depressing’.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Mark Douet
AN INSPECTOR CALLS plays at the Playhouse Theatre until 4 February 2017. Get tickets here