Reviewed by Louise Edwards
JB Priestley’s classic thriller “An Inspector Calls” opened last night at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal in the centre of the city. This production directed by Stephen Daldry (who also directed theatre classics Billy Elliot and The Reader) has been a stalwart in the West End and on Broadway since 1992 when Daldry revived it for the National Theatre.
As many English students will know, and as evidenced by much of the audience tonight, An Inspector Calls is the classic GCSE text. For pupils to see the characters brought to life on the stage is an excellent way to embed learning and give the play context.
The play opens to air raid sirens and street children playing at the front of the curtain and is indeed powerful and dramatic with rain pouring from the ceiling and the gloomy lighting setting the scene. The curtain rises to reveal a family dinner party taking place within an Edwardian house set on stilts and standing amongst rubble.
The Birling family led by father Arthur and mother Sybil, are within the elevated house celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila, played by Chloe Orrock, to the well-heeled Gerald Croft, played by Alasdair Buchan. Joining them for the celebration is Sheila’s brother Eric Birling (played by Ryan Saunders). In the sidelines is Edna, the family maid, played by Emma Cater.
Arthur Birling, player by Jeffrey Harmer, is a local businessman who has done well and former Lord Mayor, is espousing advice to Gerald and Eric gleaned from his more mature years. He proudly professes how a man should only worry about himself and not bother about anyone else.
Sybil, played by Christine Kavanagh, is Chair in a women’s charity and clearly proud of her husband’s achievements as he reveals he is a dead cert for a Knighthood.
Meanwhile lurking in the shadows, emerging from the audience, is Inspector Goole played by the wonderful Liam Brennan who loiters around the house listening to the conversations before making himself known.
As the women retire to the drawing room, the men are introduced to the Inspector who informs them he is there to investigate the suicide of a young woman that evening, who died from drinking disinfectant. As the drama unfolds the inspector reveals how each of the dinner party guests are in some way entwined in the woman’s life and hold some responsibility for her death.
The action takes place initially with the Inspector outside in the shadows and the others within the house before the walls are flung open and the family now stand on a higher platform.
The multi award winning set design by Ian MacNeil really is impressive and really makes the whole production unique and the characters shine. The set highlights the breakdown in class differences and many themes are as relevant now as they were then – tolerance, alcohol abuse and greed to name a few. We see the house fall apart, as indeed the characters within do.
The sinister play runs for one hour forty five minutes and there is no interval. It is divided into three sets, each split by the heavy curtain that falls between them and the action is dynamic and dramatic pulling the audience towards it and keeping everyone in rapture.
Tickets are selling very fast so treat yourself to this first class theatre experience and grab yours before the run ends on Saturday.
Tickets cost from £10 to £35.50 (booking fees may apply).
An Inspector Calls is at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham from 11-15 February 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.trch.co.uk or call the box office on 0115 989 5555.
Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall, Theatre Square, Nottingham, NG1 5ND