An Inspector Calls, Theatre Royal Bath and touring

STEPHEN Daldry’s multi-award winning 1992 production of An Inspector Calls is not only the National Theatre’s most successful show ever, and the world’s longest running revival, but is credited with reclaiming playwright JB Priestley from the back shelves of dated drama.

Anyone who has seen the production – and that’s now millions around the world – is immediately struck by the set, designed by Ian MacNeil. A house, at about three-quarter scale, haunts centre stage, which is clearly a bomb site, littered with the detritus of living. Children run in the ruins, but there is the loud and hearty noise of a party coming from the first floor of the house. A man is bombastically handing out advice to his family.

By the end of the evening the house, and the family inside, will be wrecked and rebuilt, but nothing will ever be the same.

Priestley’s three-act “modern morality” play set in April 1912 had always been performed as a typical Edwardian/Victorian drawing room drama before Somerset-born Daldry directed it for the National Theatre, and now it is a GCSE set book. Every seat in Bath’s Theatre Royal was filled, and all the standing room too. The play itself has been further cut, now performed in one hour and 45 minutes without an interval. In place of the time, the audience gets ghostly figures, loud music, explosions and unexplained movement.

At its heart, it is the story of the privileged Birling family and the casual selfishness they mete out to the people they see as their social inferiors. This time, the combined effect has been the suicide of a pregnant girl. The Inspector is an avenging angel, but IS he a policeman? And who is coming next to investigate the Birlings and their ilk? With the wisdom of hindsight, we know that The Great War is just around the corner.

Liam Brennan has been playing Inspector Goole for many years now, following in the garlanded footsteps of Kenneth Cranham and capturing the irritation, kindness and perseverance of this enigmatic character. You will probably recognise the Birlings and fiance Gerald Croft from the various television roles of the actors.

The production is evidently still exciting for the audience, but the mechanism has become a little clunky with the years and the performances sometimes a little formulaic. Chloe Orrock, though in need of a voice coach, is an enlightened and shamed Sheila Birling – the one character you think might have learned something from this shattering evening of revelations.


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