As the wealthy Birling family celebrate their daughters engagement, their evening is interrupted by Inspector Goole who arrives unannounced to investigate the events which lead to the suicide of a young working class girl. ★★★
He begins to question each member of the family in turn, taking one line of enquiry at a time; and as the evening progresses and the pressures increase, secrets are spilled which tears at the very seams of the fabric of the family. But what is it that links each member of the family to the death of the young girl, who is responsible for her demise and just who is the mysterious and knowledgeable Inspector Goole?
Written by J.B. Priestley, this National Theatre production of the classic thriller sees Hollywood director, Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliott, The Hours) successfully bring out the social commentary and the underpinning socialist principals of the play. With solid performances (particularly by Caroline Wildi as Sybil Birling) and an impressive presentation, this is a thought provoking piece of theatre which leaves the audience with much to mull over as the curtain falls. The atmospheric score adds to the drama as it unfolds and the decision to run the play with no interval pays off by sustaining the tension that it builds.
Opening in a swirl of shadows, smoke and silhouettes as the inspector arrives on stage, Daldry’s direction immediately has a feel of film noir in its stylish presentation before opening out into a drawing room drama which is multi layered and brimming with metaphor. The house which comprises of the main focus of the set towers above the other houses in the background, establishing where the wealthy family stand within society, yet it is still disproportionately small compared to its occupants, reflecting their egotistical view of their own inflated and grandiose self-importance – a theme which runs through the story. A dramatic transformation of the stage as the Inspector departs leaves the family quite literally and metaphorically picking up the pieces of their lives and the battle of words between the Inspector and Arthur Birling intimates a symbolic clash of socialism and capitalism.
Overall, An Inspector Calls is a curious hybrid of a quasi-whodunit and an exploration of the values in Victorian/Edwardian society which makes for an interesting evening of theatre and one which can still be enjoyed at face value if the political undertone and analysis aspect doesn’t particularly appeal.
An Inspector Calls is current at Sheffield Theatres (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) until Saturday 16th January 2016, before continuing on its national tour at various venues around the country until 21st May 2016. See www.aninspectorcalls.com for full details.
by Paul Sazbo | @IAmScubamonkey