“The famous younger generation who know it all. And they can’t even take a joke.” It seems that JB Priestly’s An Inspector Calls is as applicable today as it was 10 years ago when I studied the play at GCSE – not to mention when it was written in 1945.
Set before the First World War, An Inspector Calls is a thought-provoking and haunting production that’s won 19 major awards, having been seen by more than five million theatre goers worldwide.
The classic thriller opened at The Regent Theatre on Tuesday, October 4, ominous from the moment a young tearaway runs down the centre of the auditorium by torchlight. It’s not an easy watch. You don’t go to the theatre for a relaxing night to watch An Inspector Calls. It’s uncomfortable, with a looming sense of oppression and morality hanging in the thick air, enhanced by the atmosphere of the moody set fantastically designed by Ian Macneil.
For those who didn’t have the joy of meticulously picking apart this piece of literature at the age of 15, analysing its every word, An Inspector Calls is essentially a murder mystery. Whodunit? Who was responsible for the death of the pretty young girl, Eva Smith.
Was it Sheila Birling in the department store with her jealousy and temper? Or was it Sybil Birling with her power and fascism? Maybe it was Gerald Croft with the affair? Or Mr Birling giving her the sack.
Eva Smith died in the hospital after ending her own life, and the imposing Inspector Goole makes it his duty to get to the bottom of why, arriving unexpectedly and interrupting an engagement celebration at the prosperous Birling family home. Their peaceful dinner party is shattered by his investigations into the death of a young woman.
Inspector Goole makes his way to the stage from the back of the auditorium and finds himself outside the large, middle class home belonging to the Birlings. The award-winning set seems sinister, with telephone booths, steps and lampposts bent and buckled beneath the life sized dolls house where much of the action takes place.
One by one, Inspector Goole interrogates the Birling family about their connections with Eva Smith, starting with the affluent Mr Birling, who is intent on keeping up appearances. His line of questioning is followed by that of his daughter Sheila, then her husband-to-be Gerald, the audience a fly on the wall learning of a timeline of events which led this girl to her end.
Fourth to be questioned was the smug Mrs Birling, who denied the pregnant woman charity, leaving her penniless, and lastly, the youngest Birling child, Eric.
Liam Brennan plays a fantastic role as Inspector Goole – an authoritative yet compassionate figure who commanded the stage, even when he wasn’t speaking. It’s his mission to understand what happened, and in turn, allow us to get to the bottom of this gut wrenching story – the detective acting as a voice of conscience in a bid to get the Birlings to recognise the impact of their collective actions.
After hearing their stories, the Birling children have a noticeable moral shift, with Evlyne Oyedokun as Sheila eloquently vocalising the marked change as the previously spoiled and complacent daughter realises her grave mistakes, exclaiming to her parents ‘have you not learned anything?’. George Rowlands similarly did a superb job of playing Eric, who was already somewhat the black sheep of the family, but united with his sister in their shame and guilt, reflecting on their past actions that could have driven Eva Smith to the edge.
A relatively short play at under two hours with no interval, An Inspector Calls really allows you to immerse yourself in the story, with tensions rising as pennies begin to drop throughout.
Stephen Daldry’s multi award-winning National Theatre production really gets under your skin and invites you to examine your conscience. A moral, socialist piece of theatre, it explores the issues of class and privilege, dramatising capitalism and the misuse of power.
The classically dark, detective mystery serves as a reminder to be kind and compassionate, while remembering that every action has potential consequences. An Inspector Calls is at The Regent Theatre until Saturday, October 8. You can buy your tickets from as little as £13 here.