An Inspector Calls – New Wimbledon Theatre | Review

An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet
An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet

Fifteen minutes after the advertised start time of 7:30, the new touring production of An Inspector Calls at the New Wimbledon Theatre still hadn’t started. This seemed to be because a group of teenage schoolchildren didn’t look as if they could find their seats. Then when they were seated and the young boy with the torch who climbs onto the stage and forces his way through the curtain to denote the start of the play, they couldn’t seem to keep quiet and the auditorium rang with the sounds of “shhhhh” from the teachers accompanying their students because J B Priestley’s 1945 play is firmly on the GCSE curriculum and has been for years. But everyone soon settled down and were enthralled by Stephen Daldry’s superb production that had its debut at the National in 1992 and the inspector has been calling ever since.

In previous productions, the Birling family’s dining room was the setting but Daldry and Ian MacNeill give us a tottering dolls house where the family are claustrophobically sitting and celebrating their daughter Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft. Arthur Birling is a local big-wig, magistrate and self-made capitalist and his wife Sybil who has time on her hands, serves on lots of committees. The other member of the household is son Eric who is a bit of a loudmouth drunk. But this calm is shattered when Inspector Goole (well that’s who he says he is) turns up with a tale about a girl, Eva Smith, who has recently committed suicide by swallowing strong disinfectant. Goole then proceeds to accuse each member of the household of knowing the girl and having been complicit in her horrible demise. Everyone starts accusing the others of being most to blame for Eva’s death and their fragile relationships crumble under the questioning.

The play is set in 1912 and using a group of extras (some in uniform) who silently observe a lot of the action, there’s a feeling that war is just around the corner. But the play is timeless and is really all about class. Priestly was a died in the wool socialist and whilst the play is an entertainment, underlying the theme is an attack on capitalism and capitalists by the working man putting a spotlight on how they treat anyone they think is below them. It’s a plea for tolerance and a more just society showing a schism in the country and although over 70 years old, it couldn’t be more apposite for the situation the country finds itself in today.

There are some genuine coup de théâtre moments in the play especially towards the end and the set is almost another character. Daldry uses rain, mist and some superb music from Stephen Warbeck to make this a wonderfully atmospheric production. The performances from the main cast of seven are exemplary with Liam Brenna as Goole and Christine Kavanagh as Sybil Birling the stand-outs. They’re joined by a number of “Supernumeraries” who add to the atmosphere although everyone has to play second fiddle to the production. There are (spoiler alert) a number of false endings which add to the tension. At times the dialogue is a bit clunky and shows its age but on the whole, the hour and forty-five minutes (no interval – hurrah), flew by.

Daldry has transformed Priestley’s play into an expressionistic piece of meta-theatre which plays games with time and towards the conclusion reminds us somewhat oddly with a jolt that this is a piece of theatre.

At the end, the audience of teenagers who may have been there because their teachers and parents made them, screamed their delight at a wonderful piece of theatrical magic and I’m sure will want to come back for more.

4 stars

By Alan Fitter

Stephen Daldry’s multi award-winning production of JB Priestley’s classic thriller returns after a sell-out West End season.

Hailed as the theatrical event of its generation, winning more awards than any other production in history, An Inspector Calls has thrilled more than 4 million people worldwide.

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 of theatregoers.

AN INSPECTOR CALLS
UK AND US TOUR DATES 2018/2019

TUESDAY 2 OCTOBER – SATURDAY 6 OCTOBER 2018
New Wimbledon Theatre www.londontheatre1.com/theatres/new-wimbledon-theatre/

TUESDAY 9 OCTOBER – SATURDAY 13 OCTOBER 2018
Cheltenham Everyman Theatre www.everymantheatre.org.uk

TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER – SUNDAY 23 DECEMBER 2018
Shakespeare Theatre, Washington DC www.shakespearetheatre.org

TUESDAY 22 January 2019 – SUNDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2019
Wallis Annenberg Center, Los Angeles www.thewallis.org

TUESDAY 19 FEBRUARY 2019 – SUNDAY 10 MARCH 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater www.chicagoshakes.com

THURSDAY 14 MARCH 2019 – SUNDAY 24 MARCH 2019
Arts Emerson, Boston www.artsemerson.org

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