AN INSPECTOR CALLS
New Theatre, Cardiff
Tue 10 March
First opening at the National Theatre in 1992, Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of J. B. Priestley’s classic thriller is the longest running revival of a play in history, and deservedly so. Uncovering a brutal class divide and gradually revealing the prejudiced societal attitudes of the characters, this poignant play is just as relevant today as it ever was.
Set shortly before the First World War, An Inspector Calls begins with the Birling family’s celebration of daughter Sheila’s (Chloe Orrock) engagement to Gerald Croft (Alasdair Buchan). Their cosy dinner party is shattered upon the arrival of Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan), who has called to investigate the death of a young woman. Though the Birlings begin by treating Inspector Goole with an air of disdain, it soon becomes apparent that each of the characters had a hand in the girl’s demise, unbeknownst to the rest of the family.
The characters dance around each other as the situation becomes more and more fraught, particularly when Sybil Birling (Christine Kavanagh) – who begins the play pristine and snobbish – is under the Inspector’s microscope. Kavanagh plays the unravelling of Mrs Birling superbly, exerting control over the role despite the increasing hysterics.
Brennan is also fantastic in his role as Inspector Goole. Increasingly assertive and eventually even disparaging towards the wealthy family who originally turned their nose up at him, the Inspector provides a little humour as he prowls around the Birlings, plotting his next move in their downfall.
As wonderful as the cast are, I have to say they were outshone by Ian MacNeil’s exquisite set design. Thick mist and rain upon dark cobbles foreshadow the events that are about to unfold as the curtain is drawn up to reveal an Edwardian house on stilts, the Birling family tucked inside and, for the moment, sheltered from the desolate streets.
As the house opens up and the family make their way down to the street where the Inspector awaits, there is a noticeable power shift between the characters until the Birling family are left curled on the cobbles, at which point the Inspector gives his famous final words: “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”
Dark and heartrending, An Inspector Calls leads the audience on a thrilling journey with an important underlying political message, one in which the distorted attitudes of an upper-class family ultimately lead them to incriminate themselves.
words ELLIE HUTCHINGS photos TRISTRAM KENTON
An Inspector Calls is at the New Theatre Cardiff until Sat 14 March. For tickets and info, click here.