Theatre Review: An Inspector Calls - Theatre Royal, Glasgow ✭✭✭✭✭
Review by Sharman Prince
23 years since its premiere at the National Theatre this touring production of Stephen Daldry's production of J B Priestley's "An Inspector Calls" still retains it s awe-inspiring magnetism whilst remaining ever more politically relevant. First produced in 1945 in Moscow, Priestley's play is a treatise on social responsibility illustrating how one person's acts can have significant consequences.
Daldry's production created a mini-revolution when first presented with its theatricality, from lighting to set design, releasing Priestley's text from the confines of the somewhat dated drawing room drama it had become. From the arresting air-raid siren that announces the opening of the play through to the pregnant expectation of the final still moments, the drama unfolds in a stirring whirlwind of revelation as one by one the Birling family, celebrating the engagement of Sheila Birling to Gerald Croft, are presented with the events that culminate with the suicide of a young woman apparently known to all present. Interrupting their celebrations, the mysterious Inspector Goole proceeds to relentlessly coerce each individual to confront the truth of their part in the tragedy, unravelling the hypocrisy of the façade they each present along the way.
Director Daldry, whose work also includes "Billy Elliot" (both movie and stage musical), together with Ian MacNeil's design and the lighting of Rick Fisher, establishes an environment that crystallises the fragility of the Birling household surrounded by the bleak landscape of a reality they purposefully choose to ignore whilst the musical score by Stephen Warbeck is evocative, dramatic and suitably underscores the emotional impact of the events unfolding onstage. Daldry's total use of staging, design and text epitomises the trend of "director's theatre" with each element combining to create a whole that only an assured, confident director with a clear "vision" can execute with such surety and he never allows his cast, nor Priestley's text, to become a secondary factor. Everything functions to serve the drama and the cast that conveys it and they remain the primary focus in a production that could easily have been overwhelmed by other elements. Daldry's greatest achievement is in stripping away the barriers of time so that the themes resonate to a modern day audience; whilst the events of the play are set in 1912, Daldry establishes an audience of "Supernumeraries" (in 1940s dress) to bear witness to the Birlings' confessions whilst also having moments where the theatre audience is addressed. Time is blurred but the relevance is not.
The cast are uniformly excellent and perform in a slightly heightened aspect that is entirely appropriate to the nature of the production whilst remaining completely honest and real throughout. Liam Brennan's "Inspector Goole" dominates proceedings and his wonderful voice is only one aspect of his commanding performance whilst Caroline Wildi's "Sybil Birling" is a model of control and regality. Tim Woodward as her husband, "Arthur", offers a contrasting attitude. As the more socially-aware younger "Birlings", Katherine Jack and Hamish Riddle are spirited but equally as fragile as they are self-aware. Matthew Douglas' "Gerald Croft" presents an assured confidence that even the truth finds difficult to shake at times and Diane Payne-Myers, as the predominantly silent maid, "Edna", establishes a complete performance with her constant scuttling about the stage, subtly reacting to the eventual unravelling of the Birling family around her.
Every action performed by every actor serves to further events and there is virtually nothing that is presented as a triviality.
There are few socially relevant plays which are as thrilling and exciting to witness as this theatrically stunning production and it is a testament to the writing of J B Priestley and Stephen Daldry's execution of it that the play remains a relevant and powerfully thoughtful one especially given the political times in which we reside.
An Inspector Calls is at the Theatre Royal until 7th November. For tickets and information visit www.atgtickets.com/Glasgow