If there’s one thing I associate with GCSE’s it’s An Inspector Calls, Blood Brothers, Still Life at the Penguin Cafe and… cheesecake. So last night, I was thrilled to throw it back to GCSE days and head off to the Curve Theatre, Leicester to watch the current 2023 tour of An Inspector Calls.
The award-winning National Theatre production directed by Stephen Daldry based on JB Priestly’s An Inspector Calls in back at the Curve this week from 21 March to 25 March, already sold out with the same shocks, twists and turns that we’ve come to love from this iconic production.
Maybe I have a slight affinity to An Inspector Calls due to the reminiscent memories of schooling days, but there’s something to be said about a play that still has you questioning your own morals and thought processes decades on from its original publication date.
Asking you to reflect upon societal values and constructs, inviting you to delve deeper into the socioeconomic issues and forcing you to recognise the upper-lower class divide, An Inspector Calls is one of those timeless classics that wouldn’t be amiss written today.
In fact, if it wasn’t for the stunning period costumes, some period appropriate language use and early 1900s decor within the home, you could quite easily believe the production was set in the modern day. Whether it’s the fighting for better pay, the disparities between the social statuses or the political issues, there’s something almost deflating about the way that although a lot has changed in nearly 100 years, the major issues are still at play. The issues portrayed in An Inspector Calls are just as poignant today as they were when Priestly put pen to paper.
The story is centred around a wealthy family, the Birlings, who are obnoxiously rich and proud. The sort of family that know others are beneath them, and you feel that the second the curtain lifts. The differences in class are evident from the get-go with the children running around the streets in their rags compared to the family in their lavish outfits settling down for a gourmet dinner to celebrate the engagement of Sheila (Chloe Orrock) and businessman Gerald Croft (Simon Cotton) whilst Eric (George Rowlands) is heavily drinking. It’s here that Mr Birling (Jeffrey Harmer) profusely expresses his capitalist stance with Mrs Birling (Christine Kavanagh) spurring him on.
There’s something to be said about the character development on Sheila and Eric in the play which was handled excellent by Orrock and Rowlands. The shift between their facial expressions and body language is expertly executed. I felt Cotton was a fantastic Gerald, believable that he genuinely cared and was about to change just to then let you down in the most Gerald Croft of ways – enough to make you feel a soft spot for him, despite his wrongdoings.
As for Mr and Mrs Birling, I felt they played their roles wonderfully. Harmer’s voice boomed around the Curve with projection and power, and was just the Mr Birling you’d picture when reading the play. Kavanagh was the perfect one to hate, with no sense of guilt or moral compass and portrayed that with ease. My only concern was when Kavanagh had her back to us, we often couldn’t quite hear what was being said so I do wonder how that might affect those seated in the circle.
Every character is up for interpretation, but none of them are as widely speculated about than the main man himself, Inspector Goole. The success of An Inspector Calls weighs heavily on the role of the inspector (Liam Brennan) and he handled it superbly. It’s clear that Brennan understands the role of the inspector and is seasoned and well acquaintanced with the role.
Realistically, you can’t fault anybody’s performance on the stage and all of them brought the play to life. What I did find iconic though was Edna’s (Frances Campbell) performance, she was the representation of the working class, who often had more to say than any other character in her facial expressions than any other character considering she didn’t have a word to say.
Perhaps the blessing and the curse of An Inspector Calls though is that it is such a staple in the curriculum. A blessing for sold out tours year in year out, but I can imagine the low-level behaviour issues within the audience can be frustrating for the cast so major kudos for the cast for handling it with expertise. The first half hour or so, there seemed to be lots of muttering and sniggering within the audience but they did settle down. On the same page though, it is great to see schools out in their dozens to still come and watch this iconic play and see how their own reactions shifted as they started to process this play and get invested.
If you enjoyed An Inspector Calls movie, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this production of An Inspector Calls. Similarly, if you enjoy dark thrillers or thought-provoking themes then this is one for you.
Curve Theatre, Leicester 21 MAR – 25 MAR
Running time: 1h 45 no interval
Written by JB Priestly
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Designer Ian MacNeil
Composer Stephen Warbeck
Associate Director Charlotte Peters
Produced by PW Productions
Press tickets for review
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