An Inspector Calls at Birmingham Alexandra Theatre - Review

An Inspector Calls at Birmingham Alexandra Theatre - Review


Posted 2022-11-30 by dpmfollow

Tue 29 Nov 2022 - Sat 03 Dec 2022

It has been nearly 20 years since I first saw this National Theatre Stephen Daldry production of J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls and it has stayed with me. What Daldry achieved was to take a powerful piece of drama and create a show so packed with punch it knocks the audience over.

Currently at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre, The show is now 30 years old and yet it retains all of its impact – new audiences will be stunned by its story and staging and previous audiences appreciative of what theatre can achieve.

Priestley's play takes us into the home of the Birling family who are enjoying an evening of celebration. Wealthy manufacturers and stalwarts of society, the Birlings are toasting the engagement of daughter Sheila with the scion of fellow manufacturing company Gerald Croft. The family seem to have the world at their feet and, as father Arthur states, they are a self-made success.

But their evening is shattered when a police inspector arrives and tells them of the suicide of a young woman. Initially the family believe the tragedy is nothing to do with them but slowly and painstakingly Inspector Goole reveals how all their lives are interlinked.

At an hour-and-three-quarters without an interval, Daldry and associate director Charlotte Peters ensure the pace doesn't slacken for a moment – even pauses are moments of expectation, in which we wait for the next hammer to fall.

Ian MacNeil's set places the family home at the centre - this is their place of safety, but gradually the house opens up, spilling their ugly truths into the street and taking away their security and, at times their dignity. Their fall from grace is visualised as they descend from sitting at the table to crawling on the pavement.

There is an imminent threat not just to the Birlings' downfall but to society in general as children hide from bombs and soldiers loom, a reminder that the play was first performed in 1945 in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Liam Brennan is a merciless Goole. He refuses to give way to any of the family, pointing the finger at one after the other, reminding them of their faults and of their responsibilities to those around them.

As head of the family Arthur, played by Jeffrey Harmer, is pompous and cold, constantly reminding Goole he knows the inspector's superiors and refusing to accept his greed is the cause of anyone else's misery. His wife Sybil, played by Christine Kavanagh, is equally unyielding, telling Goole her actions were justified.

It is left to the younger members of the family to feel and express their guilt, Evlyne Oyedokun's Sheila acts as a commentator, desperate to hear every detail and to apportion blame wherever it lies, even when it sits with herself. Her brother Eric, played by George Rowlands, is a drunk who needs alcohol to listen to the bitter facts but also accepts his part in the tragedy.

Simon Cotton's Gerald Croft is more ambivalent. He admits his faults but then questions the entire scenario. Suspicious that the inspector is a liar, he believes he may have the family's salvation at hand.

Priestley and Daldry have one clear message in this production – our actions can have consequences and we all have responsibility for those actions and for taking care of other people. When Goole turns to the audience to remind us of that, there is no escaping the universality of that message. It may be stark but the sentiment remains as relevant today as it did more than 70 years ago when Priestley first wrote the play and 30 years ago when this production premiered.

This National Theatre drama is a powerful piece of theatre which has plenty more years in it - a must-see production.

An Inspector Calls is at Birmingham Alexandra Theatre until 3 December and Belgrade Theatre Coventry between 28 February and 4 March.

#theatre -reviews
!date 29/11/2022 -- 03/12/2022
70827 - 2023-01-26 01:49:40


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