An Inspector Calls – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

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

A Taste of Honey – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Written by Shelagh Delaney

Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Tickets Available from Capital Theatres: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/taste-of-honey

It might seem grim up north, or this could be the skewed view thanks to a series of kitchen-sink realism pieces emerging throughout Britain in the ‘50s and ‘60s. A prime example is that of Shelagh Delaney’s gritty, but enriching play A Taste of Honey.

Touching on the subjects of gender, race, sexual orientation and family, Delaney struck a flame in the depiction of the vulnerabilities and strengths of working-class women. Returning for a new touring production, before settling into the Westend for the first time in 60 years – Edinburgh can regain a taste of this bitter-sweet production.

Always one for a flit, Helen and daughter Jo find themselves in their new louse-ridden abode. To describe their relationship as tense would be understating the rapier-like slashes, they take at one another. There’s a unique Northern skeleton to the characters, how they display a love/hate relationship like no other. Helen, Jodie Prenger, does what she can for Gemma Dobson’s Jo – but of course, that won’t stop her desire for a few toddy’s and suitors. 

Abandoning Jo once again, Jo finds herself besotted and naive to the world around her, and the advances of sailor Jimmy. Pregnant, unwed and living with gay best friend Geoffrey, Delaney’s piece is early commentary, though growing stale rather than advancing a narrative or tweaking the overall depictions. 

Dobson’s vigorous encircling of those she chooses to do battle with – be this her mother Helen or caddish booze-soaked Peter (Tom Varey), offers just enough youthful brass insecurities to maintain a naivety, heightening the visceral comments from her mother. Varey’s Peter, verminous in approach, conducts the character with an air of flea-ridden sleaze, helping raise Prenger’s role away from antagonistic.

Prevalent for her talents in musical theatre, the tumultuous respect for Prenger as a performer is promptly growing from her origins and into a realm of dramatic integrity. Her take on Helen is far livelier than previous incarnations of Delaney’s venomous Helen. Notably the film version with Dora Bryan, with Prenger’s character evolving from comedic vaudeville villain into a complex mother who shows signs of the sharp cruelty within. Bijan Sheibani takes a notion with Prenger’s direction, attempting to maintain a virtue without vilifying – though Prenger knows precisely where to twist the knife.

The atmosphere is a sharp point for A Taste of Honey, though sought uniquely. With blurring lines of a musical score, it’s easy to see the influences of a theatre director with a background in Opera. Sheibani conducts the stage with an infusion of this score, Prenger lending her superb vocals to the show’s opener. As she stands, cigarette in hand, bottle to one side – David O’Brien’s jazz trio supply an excellent underscore live onstage, entwining the cast.

Pistols at dawn are put aside, relying on verbal assaults for the make-up of the production. Hildegard Bechtler’s set shifts itself, accordingly, transforming Helen & Jo’s flat into an open coliseum for the two to do battle. The general division of the piece is a conversation between two characters, from Jo and her mother to Jo and her lover to the domestic bliss with Geoffrey, and reverting to Jo and Helen. What we gain is a demonstration of Delaney’s volatile language, concealing itself beneath the humour.

Straying from the monochromatic drear of Delaney’s post-war drama, Sheibani’s production tries to brighten the room – not overstating the comedy, but in moments, leaning away from the emotion. The result is a series of encounters, flourishing when able, incorrect in reading the tone on occasion. A Taste of Honey seems unwilling to define itself by its roots as a kitchen sink drama, choosing instead to develop with time – admirable, but requiring a touch extra care in how it develops for new audiences.

Runs until September 28th 2019. Tickets available from Capital Theatres at: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/taste-of-honey

Photo Credit – Marc Brenner

Eye of the Storm – The King’s Theatre

Writer & Director: Geinor Styles

Music & Lyrics: Amy Wadge

There’s fascination over storms, an unparalleled force of nature. Harnessing its capabilities could provide answers to issues of global warming and fossil fuel usage. As Greta Thunberg rallies thousands of strikes, walkouts and peaceful demonstrations across the globe – Geinor Styles’ Eye of the Storm places environmentalism as the casing of her story concerning a young carer who has dreams as colossal as the task of fixing this world.

Just off the green valleys of South Wales, Emmie is the primary carer for her mother, Angela. Struggling to balance school, her family and homework, Emmie has ambitions in studying storms, figuring out their anatomy. Rosey Cale is hypnotic in terms of her vocals, which command attention in her control, range and projection. Emmie is young, capable but Cale captures the fragmentary moments where even the strongest of us struggle.

The potential for an insightful production on often forgotten communities, focusing on the lives of young carers and their dreams is staggeringly vital theatre. Comprising multiple workshops with young carers, Eye of the Storm is a composite of their feelings, hopes and frustrations whipping into a colourful, musical frenzy. Theatr na nóg offers their story – yet not only theirs, but to shine a light on the talents of Welsh theatre, something all too relegated to the South of the nation.

Concerning Amy Wadge’s lyricism, many of the numbers have a regrettable similarity, though the duet between sisters Emmie and Karen is wrought with powerful subtext and balanced vocals. The live band, are on form, smoothly transitioning between instrumental to the acting role.

In the role of half-sister Karen, it’s easy to vilify the relation who isn’t providing care, instead, working on their own life, but Caitlin McKee maintains an identifiable presence, conveying the pressure of realising she needs to do more but worries she can’t. As the initial confrontations pass, McKee’s role extends in understanding these complex relationships usually criminally hidden or forgotten.

Suffering is Dan Bottomly’s Walt, the physics teacher who is in education for all the wrong reasons. Concerningly, what first appears to be a commentary on unengaging teachers, is instead left abandoned as a character who is difficult to read, has an odd ‘redemption’ arc and has strong vocals which are put to poor use. Style’s direction throws in curveballs for this character, in particular, we’re unsure of whether this misogynistic teacher who refuses to educate a young girl is a redeemable hero due to his closing actions, or just a bit of an arse.

Noteworthy in attempt, bringing the plight of climate change to the stage is a tremendously admirable cause, though a cautionary warning for the budding scientists in the audience – there’s less a stretch of dramatic imagination and more a hodgepodge of Wikipedia science.

Allow the rain to wash over you, let the wind ruffle your hair and open your eyes to the lives of the 700,000 young carers across the UK. Facing the problems of the world valiantly, Eye of the Storm rages itself headfirst into the oncoming tempest, failing to watch for the occasional pitfall. In attempting to promote a Welsh community, with an environmental message linking to the concerns of young carers, Style’s piece spreads itself thinly at the edges.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/eye-of-the-storm-the-kings-theatre-edinburgh/