An Inspector Calls review at Playhouse Theatre, London – ‘a timely revival’
Stephen Daldry’s 1992 National Theatre production of An Inspector Calls is a fascinating theatrical artefact, simultaneously a thing of its time and a play for today (this week more so than ever it seems).
First performed in 1945, JB Priestley’s play still feels dispiritingly, dismayingly relevant. It’s a plea for social responsibility, for compassion and humanity, for people to look at the world and each other beyond the frame of their self-interest.
The conceit of the encasing the wealthy Birling family in an Alice in Wonderland-style house, a drawing room cocoon, remains striking. The family’s gilded home unfolds as their world is disrupted by the arrival of Inspector Goole, bringing news of a young woman’s suicide in which they are all in some way complicit.
Liam Brennan – winner of The Stage Edinburgh Award for his compelling performance in the Gate Theatre’s recent production of Diary of a Madman – is magnetic as Goole, his fury barely contained. Clive Francis and the wonderfully imperious Barbara Marten give suitably over-sized performances as the senior Birlings, stiff with privilege, jolted only briefly out of their comfort and complacency. Not all the performances are as controlled – there are discrepancies of scale – and there are some noticeable creaks and wheezes in this latest West End revival, along with a faint taste of ham. But it remains a remarkable spectacle, a piece of theatre history that speaks to the world in which we live.
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