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An Inspector Calls – at Theatre Royal Brighton

It is now 30 years since Stephen Daldry decided to make his National Theatre directing debut with J B Priestley’s 1945 ‘time’ play An Inspector Calls. This landmark production of what was considered then to be a dated piece of theatre is still as involving and gripping as it was all those years ago – perhaps even more so – and has introduced many young people, who often study it for GCSE English Literature, not only to Priestley, but also to ‘theatre’. Last night the Theatre Royal was filled to capacity with superbly quiet young people, as well as those who did not know what they were in for, like the parent of one of the youngsters next to me, who was ‘blown away’ by the play.

An Inspector Calls 2022. Jeffrey Harmer 'Mr Birling', George Rowlands 'Eric Birling', Simon Cotton 'Gerald Croft'. Photo by Mark Douet.
An Inspector Calls 2022. Jeffrey Harmer ‘Mr Birling’, George Rowlands ‘Eric Birling’, Simon Cotton ‘Gerald Croft’. Photo by Mark Douet.

Simon Cotton, who plays Gerald Croft, had been inspired to take up acting as a profession by seeing this same production at Theatre Royal Brighton twenty years ago when he was fifteen: it was his first theatre visit, as it must have been for many of the audience.

Strange as it may seem today, when he wrote An Inspector Calls, Priestley was unable to find a West End theatre for it, and it was first seen in Moscow, followed by Leningrad, before being produced at the New Theatre (now the Noel Coward) in the West End, with Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness followed some years later by a very ‘spooky’ film starring Alastair Sim as Inspector Goole, who arrives during a family party celebrating the engagement of the aforementioned Gerald, a masterly performance by Cotton, to Stella Birling (Evlyne Oyedokun). Liam Brennan is superb as Inspector Goole, inhabiting the role totally and making one’s flesh creep as he subtly inveigles the Birling family to reveal their secrets, especially the way he uses his raincoat when getting down to business and rolling up his shirtsleeves: a towering yet subtle performance with chilling charisma: you have to look at him!

Others, in a wonderful ensemble cast, include Jeffrey Harmer as blustering patriarch Arthur Birling, Christine Kavanagh as his wife Sybil – so proud for most of the play in spite of everything crashing down, often literally, around her – and George Rowlands as the permanently drunk younger son, Eric, a nicely underplayed study that is very convincing.

They are joined by Frances Campbell as ageing housekeeper Edna, an actor infinitely watchable in all she does, plus a multitude of supernumeraries and children who are all effectively used and add to the atmosphere.

Full marks must go to Charlotte Peters, who, as associate director, has rehearsed this revival with great care, knowing when energy and pace are needed, as well as letting it relax so that we, the audience, are able to absorb what is going on. I can think of no better compliment than to say that this revival is easily the equal of the original.

Terry King’s fights are very believable, Rick Fisher’s lighting adds atmosphere, as does Stephen Warbeck’s music, and Ian MacNeil’s famous set is what we all came for!

I do urge you to see this revival, whether or not you know the play – which is terrific by the way, and not at all ‘dated’ – BUT you may have to see it at another ATG Theatre as I understand that every performance at Brighton is “sold out” with the exception of the odd single seat! A great evening in the theatre – as it was 30 years ago!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Written at the end of the Second World War and set before the First, An Inspector Calls is a compelling and haunting thriller. The story begins when Inspector Goole arrives unexpectedly at the prosperous Birling family home. Their peaceful dinner party is shattered by his investigations into the death of a young woman. His startling revelations shake the very foundations of their lives and challenge us all to examine our consciences. More relevant now than ever, this is a must-see for a whole new generation.

Since 1992, Daldry’s production of An Inspector Calls has won a total of 19 major awards, including four Tony Awards and three Olivier Awards, and has played to more than 5 million theatergoers worldwide. An Inspector Calls is the most internationally-lauded production in the National Theatre’s history.

Theatre Royal Brighton
Until Sat 19 Nov 2022

The Alexandra, Birmingham
Tue 29 Nov – Sat 3 Dec 2022

Grand Opera House York
Tue 7 Feb – Sat 11 Feb 2023

Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Tue 14 Feb – Sat 18 Feb 2023

Liverpool Empire
Tue 14 Mar – Sat 18 Mar 2023

Richmond Theatre
Tue 25 Apr – Sat 29 Apr 2023

Theatre Royal Glasgow
Tue 23 May – Sat 27 May 2023

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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