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An Inspector Calls: A remarkable spectacle and timeless debate

| Theatre | 23/11/2016

An Inspector Calls © The Playhouse Theatre
An Inspector Calls © The Playhouse Theatre

Written by Sandip Kana

Stephen Daldry’s multi-award-winning production of An Inspector Calls has returned to the West End, exactly 70 years after the play was first staged in the UK.  Daldry’s adaptation of J.B. Priestley’s classic piece of theatre – showing at Playhouse Theatre until February 2017 – brings a mixture of emotion, laughter and surreal moments.  Infused with fewer dark undercurrents than the original script, this version can still be regarded as a great contemporary piece of theatre.

The play centres on Inspector Goole, who arrives at the home of the Birlings one night to implicate each family member in the death – or suicide – of a young woman.  The date is 1912, a few years before the outbreak of The Great War.  However, the battles we see are between two conflicting sets of morality, as the norms that once consumed British society begin to feel threatened by a new social order.  The old – based on individualism, class and few moral considerations – are clung to firmly by the patriarch, mill-owner and politician, Arthur Birling.  But through the younger Birlings, we witness a plea for a more just, compassionate and community-based society.

Mark Douet ©

Mark Douet ©

Inspector Goole, played by Liam Brennan, neatly fills the void between old and new, looking both backwards and forwards towards the future.  Brennan is just the sort of authoritative figure to portray this mysterious persona, whose identity we never fully discover.  He brings anger, compassion and a sense of order to the role.

Carmella Corbett – as the young Sheila Birling – shows there is more to her than meets the eye. Alongside her brother – played by Hamish Riddle – they prove to the audience that the younger generation can offer an alternative to the failings of a tumultuous and traditional society.  Essentially, the pampered youth may not be as pampered as we may have considered.

An Inspector Calls is in many respects a representation of that reality.  By the end of the play, Mr and Mrs Birling remain unaltered; only the junior Birlings learnt anything of value from Inspector Goole’s visit.

Although the production sometimes suffers from moments of rigid stage movement, the creative team imbue it with an array of visual features.  This helps make it an astonishing play, that continues to grapple with the merits of a just and compassionate society.  Daldry has said of its return to London: “Each time we have mounted this production it seems more relevant than the last.  With the refugee crisis, the European referendum debate and American elections, you can’t fail to see the genius of Priestley’s writing.”

An Inspector Calls is showing at Playhouse Theatre, London until February 4th 2017.  Performances are at 19.30 every day (excluding Sundays) with matinees on Wednesday and Thursday at 14.30, and Saturday at 15.00.  For tickets, head here.

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