The Birlings stand proud on their raised dais of a family home, surrounded by the audience on three sides. What have they to fear as they celebrate an engagement? A lot more than the secrets Inspector Goole comes to expose, as it transpires. By the end of Barry Kyle’s powerful production Martyn Bainbridge’s set has laid bare the destruction of their ordered world.
Aaron Cass’ hypnotic, sardonic Goole seems to be waiting not simply for their individual confessions but rather for the moment when they see through his deceptions and retreat again behind their social fa‚àö√üade. Then he can let rip with his devilish destruction of all they hold dear. En route to this astounding apocalyptic ending Priestley’s morality play has proved as satisfactory a picture of slowly unpeeled guilt as ever.
Robert Blythe blusters in fine form as Mr Birling while Elizabeth Counsell’s Mrs Birling is suitably armour-plated in respectability. The strongest performance comes from Rosanna Lavelle as their daughter Sheila. She’s the emotional core of the play, convincingly growing from happy young thing into a woman whose eyes and mind have been opened. Both Dennis Herdman as her brother and Daniel Llewelyn-Williams as her fiance give nuanced layered performances that benefit greatly from close audience proximity.
I don’t think turning the maid into an all-purpose victim really worked, Goole’s descriptions are more powerful than any visualisation can be. That aside, this is another fresh rethink of a play that has lost none of its relevance or emotional power.