An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse Theatre
It is rare that a specific production of a play has the same kind of longevity as a musical, the latter being a form that, once entrenched in the West End or Broadway, tends not to drastically change beyond its cast turnover. Stephen Daldry’s version of JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls is one such exception. First seen at the National Theatre in 1992, it is arguably responsible for the play becoming a part of the GCSE curriculum, ensuring Priestley’s legacy in the process.
Yet in a way, it is a shame that An Inspector Calls, which returns just in time for the 70th anniversary of its first staging in the UK and, next year, the 25th birthday of the NT revival, has become so intrinsically linked with Daldry’s vision. The production feels a bit creaky in places, and the text cries out for an update from someone like Robert Icke or Ivo van Hove.
Visually Ian MacNeil’s design remains impressive, an inspired surrealist take on the traditional drawing room drama – set against a splash of sky a cramped doll’s house design is mounted on rickety stilts, the Victorian home looking like it has crash landed on a desolate street. Other aspects have aged less well; the music cues hold the hand of the audience through an already unsubtle play, while some of the theatrics seem a bit tame compared to what has been seen in the West End over the last few years.
Any dated elements are largely overcome, however, by the narrative’s lip-smackingly delicious reveals and, in this iteration at least, stellar casting. Clive Francis has all the bombast and bluster of the outraged upper classes as Arthur Birling, while Barbara Marten drips with malicious condescension as his wife Sybil. Best of all is the titular Inspector, performed by Liam Brennan – like a cross between David Thewlis (who portrayed the character in a BBC adaptation last year) and Jarvis Cocker, the actor perfectly balances Goole’s charm and wit with the righteous fury that drives him.
As for Priestley’s play itself, it is depressing how relevant parts of it of still feel. In the year of Trump and Brexit, where the rage of the disenfranchised has taken a terrifying turn rightwards, this stint at the Playhouse Theatre provides a timely rallying cry for kindness and compassion, and against the kind of disregard and delusion that falls so effortlessly from the mouths of the elite.
Photos: Mark Douet
An Inspector Calls is at the Playhouse Theatre from 4th November 2016 until 4th February 2017. Book your tickets here.
Read our interview with award-winning actor Liam Brennan here.