Reviewed by Ann Durrell
Running from 14-18 January, An Inspector Calls is Stephen Daldry’s multi award-winning production for the National Theatre. The production is billed as a ‘visionary, radical, challenging’ version of the classic thriller by JB Priestley’s classic thriller.
The Birling family: Arthur a wealthy factory owner and former Lord Mayor, Sybil, his Lady wife, Eric their son and Sheila their daughter are celebrating. They are joined at a dinner party by Mr Croft, son and heir to a rival company whose engagement to their daughter has just been announced. Arthur is in the middle of lecturing the two younger men on life when there is a knock on the door, an Inspector is calling, he is investigating a suicide, but what has it to do with the guests? How are their lives intertwined with the tragedy?
This production runs straight through without any interval. It did feel like the cast were rushing through the script which affected the suspense. It was unfortunate that when anything happened on stage which wasn’t serious, such as a character getting slapped, it became a little farcical, this could have been amplified by the audience comprising almost entirely of GSCE students who then collapsing into fits of giggles. This was almost as annoying as the constant crisp eating and wittering through the entire performance.
There seemed to be an issue with the sound, the volume was set far too high for scene setting or mood music. An issue with feedback on one side of the stage meant when the cast were on a certain point their dialogue echoing.
The set design to me was very odd. During the first scene the cast were in a dolls house type structure on stage, surrounding this the set up was a grim Edwardian slum. The house was completely enclosed around the cast and from where I was sat you could just make out peoples backs through the windows. When Arthur and Mr Croft left the dining table, they ducked through a tiny door onto a makeshift balcony which wobbled and didn’t look safe! The house did open up but I was distracted throughout by the fact it didn’t look secure. I wouldn’t spoil it, but the house does become a visualisation for a message the play conveys which for me was unnecessary.
From a cast point of view, I thought that Chloe Orrock as Sheila Birling was excellent, I completely bought into her character and felt her remorse. Jeffrey Harmer as Mr Birling was also memorable, he kept the air of self-importance and self-worth throughout even when pushed and Christine Kavanagh as Mrs Birling was equally as easy to dislike, in the very best way of course! Gerald Croft (Alasdair Buchan) and Eric (Ryan Saunders) were both well played.
The Inspector himself is played by Liam Brennan, I think I would have enjoyed his performance better if the production had given more time, he is obviously a very talented and able actor.
Overall, I felt the production didn’t work for me, maybe it is time for a new revival.
Tickets cost from £17.50 (booking fees may apply).
An Inspector Calls is at The Lowry in Manchester from 14-18 January 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.thelowry.com or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000