Stephen Daldry’s production of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls has won more awards than any other play since it was first staged back in the early ‘90s. Set in 1912, Inspector Goole arrives unexpectedly at the prosperous Birling family home during a dinner party to celebrate Shelia’s engagement to Gerald. He is investigating the death of a young woman, Eva Smith, who committed suicide earlier that day, leaving a diary naming members of the family. In the course of his inquiries, he uncovers a tangled web of events which implicates every member of the gathering.
Daldry’s re-staging of the play differs in several ways from the original. Whilst An Inspector Calls is set in the second decade of the twentieth century, it was written towards the end of the Second World War. Very much of a social commentary on the time, this production employs a group of witnesses from Blitz-era London alongside the audience themselves, as witnesses to the unfolding events.
As the curtain rises, we are thrown into a dark stormy night as the Birling’s home; a cleverly constructed real life dollhouse is slowly lowered centre stage. This gives the impression that we, the audience, and the children on-stage, are acting as witnesses. The conceit draws the audience in, making you believe that you are actually eavesdropping the celebration, before the house opens up, drawing you further in to the drama.
Lighting and smoke are liberally employed in order to set the dramatic atmosphere, whilst the staging is exceedingly clever and well thought out. There’s a beautiful scene at the beginning where Inspector Goole’s casts a large shadow over the corner of the house; a potent of what is to come. The cast deliver impressive performances; Karen Archer displaying beautiful comic timing as Sybil Birling, and Kelly Hotten imbuing the production with a sense of sobriety; delivering the plays most potent lines with aplomb.
However, I did find that the production tended to verge on the melodramatic at times, with the music, whilst sometimes cleverly employed, was quite often too much. I was also slightly confused by Daldry’s interpretation of Inspector Goole; giving him an aggressive demeanour and a tendency to rant and rave; often detracting from the power of his pronouncements, and sometimes verging on bullying.
Having said all that, this is a highly impressive production. The staging is simply breathtaking at times and there are many insightful touches and moments of brilliance. Like many in the Lyceum tonight, I read An Inspector Calls at school and completely loved it. It takes balls to alter such a well-known work, but Daldry manages to infuse freshness into a play whose relevance has not diminished over the years.
For further info, and to book tickets, please visit http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/an-inspector-calls/