Written by J.B Priestley
Directed by Stephen Daldry
It’s a visit none of us desires, when An Inspector Calls, compelling us to reveal the slightest detail, even if we haven’t done anything wrong. What though, if you had done something? No matter how trivial it may seem, what if your actions had led to something horrendous? As the portentous Birley family wine, dine and celebrate their daughter’s engagement, their evening is about to take a turn, a turn which has made An Inspector Calls one of the previous centuries prominent works of the stage.
A staple of the English department, J. B. Priestley’s text has gone through as many adaptations, iterations and re-stagings as humanly possible. So, when a difference occurs, when a design framework captures the dollhouse toying of Inspector Goole in such a unique manner, one does take note. A tale on class, socialism, ‘white knight’ gentlemen and the welfare state, Stephen Daldry’s ability to encapsulate this into a one-act production is staggeringly impressive.
Balancing itself precariously, there are reminiscents of radio-drama, a maniacal melodramatic delivery which feels as though we are to hear, rather than see the performers. A young boy, delivering a swift kick to a clunking radio sparks off events – from curtain up, you know this is a production of high calibre. Sodden, torn apart streets are the playground of these working-class children, as the scaled house contains the blusterous bourgeoisie. Ian MacNeil’s notorious staging of the production, held upon timbers, surrounded by streetlamps and blown apart cobbles, is still a triumph of set design. It’s enthralling aesthetically, toying with levels and powerplay, an becomes a board for the Inspector to set his pawns in a manner of his choosing.
With a wealth of tremendously impressive performances under his hat, Liam Brennan was always a sure-fire hit for Inspector Goole. Few though could have anticipated just how exquisite this transformation is. Unearthly, Goole has always been a character of note for performers. Easy to unbalance, vilify or write off as over-the-top. Brennan is a walking paradox. Cold, but welcoming and warm. Ignorant to the actions of others, but five steps ahead. Even removing the fourth wall, even for a spell, to directly address the audience in a manner which fails to detract from the atmosphere. An utterly sensational performance, commanding every ounce of the King’s stage.
What this entails is a trailing of focus once the Inspector’s duty is done. By no means dragging, there’s a minute or two which requires a tight shave towards the productions close. We’re still beckoned to invest, particularly by Chloe Orrock’s Sheila – the only guilty party who is willing to allow growth. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the pompously malicious Jeff Harmer’s Mr Birling. Brought to life with a superbly loathsome charm, Christine Kavanagh’s Mrs Birling reserves her poker face throughout, hysteric on a knife-edge, her eventual break is the height of melodic drama.
Unaware as we are that the Trump household was around in the 1910s, it’s remarkable how relevant a text can find itself some 60 years after its publication. A viper-like assault on self-preservation, it is quick, ferocious and instant. Nothing is left to chance; the message is quite clear. Priestley’s writing conveys a sense of justice, lacking in preach or jargon. As the family remains, their empire standing, if shaken, An Inspector Calls is as accessible in its theme as it was all those years ago. Troubling.
Lying beneath is a fledgeling five-star production, held back by the silliest of direction issues. It’s a production which respects the original text, offering a potential reason for drama teachers to watch for the twelfth time. A remarkable piece of theatre, An Inspector Calls is ounces away from perfection, fraying slightly in over-exaggerations, but it cannot be stressed – if you haven’t had the pleasure of sitting through Inspector Goole’s deductions, get yourself into the King’s theatre now.
Runnins until October 12th at King’s Theatre Edinburgh, Tickets available: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/an-inspector-calls