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An Inspector Calls review at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal – ‘breathtaking’

Tim Woodward, Diana Payne Myers, Katherine Jack and Hamish Riddle in An Inspector Calls. Photo: Mark Douet Tim Woodward, Diana Payne Myers, Katherine Jack and Hamish Riddle in An Inspector Calls. Photo: Mark Douet
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This is the 20th production of Stephen Daldry’s revolutionary staging of the Priestley classic, first seen at the National in 1992 and last on tour in 2011. Its power to shock and convince remains undiminished, an epic theatrical experience that leaves an audience open-mouthed at the sheer power and portent of it all.

The Birling family refuge is a warmly lighted capsule of privilege, a precarious stronghold on stilts from which they are gradually forced to descend into the grey wasteland of the world around them. It is peopled with scavenging children and silent accusers and heavy with meaning and association. Big orchestral music and deep cello chords bring all the shiver of a thriller.

Highly charged moments such as Sheila Birling’s slap on the face to Gerald (Matthew Douglas) and her tossing away of the engagement ring send shock waves around the auditorium. There are fine performances all round, from the blustering Arthur (Tim Woodward) to the waspish Sybil (Caroline Wildi). Liam Brennan is the dry, steely Inspector Goole, his anger building in a beautifully controlled dynamic. Katherine Jack wins respect for Sheila, and Hamish Riddle something close to affection for the foolish Eric.

The Inspector literally pushes Sheila into the spotlight to tell her part in the story. His warnings of fire, blood and anguish at the end are spoken directly to the audience, putting us firmly in the dock. With the gap between rich and poor becoming ever wider, it’s even more a message for our times.

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Epic theatre, breathtaking in its power to shock and stun its audience