An Inspector Calls is probably J B Priestley’s best-known play, set in 1912. It examines the callous way in which the moneyed and powerful classes use and abuse poor working class people. The Birling family are comfortably self-congratulatory about their wealth and prospects until the inspector arrives and demonstrates the role of each of those present in the destruction and death of a poor girl who had worked in Birling’s factory. Yet the inspector’s presence is ethereal and, once this is discovered, we see that, although the Birling daughter and son have had their consciences stirred, the others had been merely concerned with bad publicity.
The initial complacency of the family gives way to fear, regrets, recrimination and panic during the inspector’s revelations and this should be reflected on the stage. There should be a steady escalation of tension and stripping away of social niceties to reveal the ugly creatures below. Then the re-donning of the mask by Mr Birling in particular would have an effective grotesqueness. Although this production made some efforts in this direction, I felt that it really needed that extra level to give the audience a memorable experience. On the whole it felt not much different from a whole host of drawing-room plays: interesting and amusing, but not gripping.
Within those constraints, the performances were generally good. I particularly liked Nadia Parkes as Sheila Birling and Gill Bowser as Sybil Birling. Inspector Goole was played with style and control by John Dawson, but I could have wished he had been more commanding and perhaps a little scary.
I admired the moving wall at the front of the set and liked the idea of having the dead girl appear under the streetlamp in her various guises as each person was questioned. This was played by the same actor as played the Birlings’ maid, Fay Staton. Something perhaps could have been made of the fact that the characters were also alike in many ways; the maid could have been destroyed by the Birlings as easily as the dead girl.
So, enjoyable as it was; but I feel it could have been more.