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

Bible John – Pleasance Courtyard

Written by Caitlin McEwan

Directed by Lizzie Manwaring

A recipient of Pleasance’s Charlie Hartill Theatre Reserve 2019, Poor Michelle offer their interpretation on a killer who was never caught, and the culture surrounding him – Bible John.

Gaze around this festival and one prevalent feature will leap at you: serial killers. Musicals, theatre and comedies centring around murder, death and killers litter Edinburgh. It’s by no means a new fascination, we’ve been obsessing over those who would cause grievous harm for centuries, holding them in reverence, canonizing them in history through obsession.

An unsuspecting office finds four women, who know each other only in passing, share one key love, podcasts. Specifically, podcasts surrounding serial killers and unsolved murders. When Bible John becomes the new ‘hot topic’, the girls become enthralled by the case. They turn their passion into an obsession, seeking answers for the lives he would take and for the safety of women across the world.

McEwan’s script blends a gruesome sense of humour, perfectly capturing the natural conversations we have around true crime. For the most part, a delicate balance occurs of characterisation, dramatic tension and even the odd music interlude.

The minimal setting, they make use of every aspect they can, without placing dependence on anything. Video projections are present but never overstay a welcome, sparingly used. No, the delivery from these four performers is what drives Bible John. The sincerity in their ambition to figure out the killer’s identity is entirely believable – one can imagine that sleuthing was already what these four are doing in their spare time. Lizzie Manwaring’s direction offers a comfortable environment, given the subject matter, knowing precisely what to draw from each performer, that is until the ending.

There is, we must mention, a disconnection with Poor Michelle’s production. Towards the finale, a shift in aesthetics occurs, which if taken a different way, may have been a tremendous, movement inspired ending. As it stands, the revisit of the Barrowlands removes much of the tension previously built over the show.

We find a sickening joy in watching the likes of The Staircase, Making a Murderer or listening to Serial and Monster, but for some, they offer more than fascination. They’re warning signs, things to store in the backs of our minds for if this ever happens to us. Bible John has such passion, and so many details it wants to convey that as it works itself into a frenzy, the ending loses what made the production appealing. Otherwise, with a hint of dark humour, Bible John is a look into one of Scotland’s darkest murders, placing gender, violence and fascinations front and centre.

Tickets available from: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/bible-john/performances

Poster courtesy of: Katie Edwards