Dir. Stephen Daldry, Theatre Royal, 3rd – 7th October 2015
Stephen Daldry’s 1992 production of J.B. Priestley’s classic “An Inspector Calls”comes to life once again this week in the Theatre Royal. The play, this year celebrating its 70th anniversary, conveys a deep criticism of man’s greed and selfishness through Priestley’s portrait of an archetypal upper-class family of the Edwardian era, the Birlings.
The play opens with a trio of street children playing and casting shadows against the stage curtain until one boy finally peeks behind. Suddenly the mood changes, and as dramatic, thundering music plays whilst the scene of a bleak and rainy street is revealed, there is a clear foreshadowing of something sinister to come.
As the family emerge from their fold-up house, each member is called upon one by one to repent for their sins as a chain of events is revealed to have resulted in the supposed suicide of a young girl, implicating the whole group.
At the heart of the play is, of course, the ubiquitous Inspector Goole, who makes his entrance as a shadowy figure in the gloomy street. He stands alone in juxtaposition with the Birlings, bringing a stark reality to their hollow and fantastical world, and acts as narrator, director and also judge supreme throughout the play. Goole cuts through the flippancy of the other characters, urging them to take responsibility for their actions. Whilst the Birling patriarch, Arthur, may repeatedly refer to his position of power within the local government, it is Goole who controls the drama.
The inspector draws the family physically down from the house to his level on the street, and later appears high in a gallery, removed from the rest of the cast. This switching of levels is particularly effective in highlighting the changing roles of the characters, as the inspector, the moral voice, looks down upon the Birlings and causes their superficial world to disintegrate.
The play explores what Priestley maintained were the greatest ills of our society: stubbornness, greed, hypocrisy – Goole is imploring each and every one of us to consider our own treatment of others. Daldry’s spectacularly beautiful and dark adaptation is both powerful and thought-provoking, itself becoming a parable, a moral lesson that continues to echo through the generations.
[Anna Mackenzie- @annacjmackenzie]