On Wednesday 15th February, my brother and I went up to London to see J.B Priestly’s An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse Theatre. As some of you may know, I am really getting into plays at the moment so I was very excited to see this one, a play I have heard mentioned a lot but never seen, read or studied.
An Inspector Calls is about Inspector Goole – who, one night, calls on the Birling family investigating the suicide of a young lady, Eva Smith. Initially, the family have no recollection of an Eva Smith but as the events unfold, it turns out that they all knew the girl but under different names. Goole shows each person a photograph of the girl, who they instantly recognise and as it transpires, they all unknowingly played some part in making the girl unhappy which ultimately lead to her death. The story then takes a dramatic and shocking twist when the Inspector leaves and the family all reveal their suspicions about him. On doing some investigating of their own, they soon discover that he is not from the local police and nor did a girl die in the infirmary that night. Yet another shocking (possibly slightly predictable?) twist came at the end, which I shall not reveal but I will say it left me completely and utterly mind-blown.
Liam Brennan played the role of Inspector Goole and did a fine job of the role. Although being the title and main role, you got to know very little about the mysterious inspector as he spent all his stage time pointing the finger at the other characters and accusing them of playing an indirect role in Eva’s death, a very clever way of diverting the audience’s attention to the Birlings and not who this stranger-from-out-of-nowhere is. Brennan demonstrated a lot of passion and anger in this role, two strong emotions which go hand-in-hand and works particularly well for his character, creating even more questions as to who he is and why he is feels so strongly about Eva’s death. A very strong performance of an eerie, even mildly-disturbing character who made it very difficult to decide whether he was to be loved or hated.
The role of Mr Birling was played by Clive Francis, a West End veteran with a whelm of credits to his name. Francis played the role of a rather snobbish, well-off man who refuses to accept his mistakes and responsibility, particularly his part in Eva’s death and brilliantly he played the role too. He was very convincing as a man who refused to admit his part in such a tragedy but would blame everybody else but himself.
Mr Birling’s wife, Sybil Birling was played by Barbara Marten, perhaps best-known for her role of Eve Montgomery in Casualty in the late 1990s. I have seen Marten in a number of different roles, most of which I have felt that she has been at the disadvantage of playing very similar characters, characters which I am never really keen on, such as Eve. However, I have been very impressed by her performance in The Bill and in a certain Casualty storyline alongside the brilliant Claire Goose. The first thing I thought when I saw Marten’s name in the programme is “oh, I’ve not seen her for a while!” to which my brother responded “she’s a witch”, about the character of Mrs Birling. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by her performance of a holier-than-thou, rather comical character and thought that she suited the role really well. Her partnership with Clive Francis as husband and wife was very well-matched and the two characters were very much the dark-comedy centre of the show, where and when required.
Carmela Corbett played the role of the Birling’s daughter, Sheila, opposite her stage-fiancee Matthew Douglas, played by Gerald Croft. These two actors played the characters as being very much like younger versions of Mr and Mrs Birling in their mannerisms and attitude, however, with one vital difference – their acceptance of their parts in Eva Smith’s death. Initially, Sheila and Gerald were very much far too busy wrapped up in their own lives and the perfect future they were going to have together, however, after Inspector Goole comes along and shakes things up a bit, they are forced to re-evaluate their lives and face the harsh truths of their idealistic world. The transition for the couple is acted superbly and feels extremely real.
The Birling’s youngest child, Eric, was played by Hamish Riddle. Eric is a very simple character ultimately with a good heart which unfortunately in the play had dire consequences which were bound to haunt him. Riddle played the role very sensitively whilst providing a lot of emotional depth to the character and made him a joy to watch and perhaps a little underrated against his fellow cast members. Eric was perhaps the most deeply-affected by the play’s tragedy and Riddle conveyed his every emotion perfectly.
The entire play is set in one evening and takes place on the same set throughout – a cobbled street and the dining room in the Birling’s very grand home. The house was designed similarly to a doll’s house, right down to the way it opened up and closed. Music played a part in the show as it really elevated the mood and created suspense, however it’s simplicity of being just strings was extremely atmospheric.
An Inspector Calls is running in London until Saturday 25th March 2017 at the Playhouse Theatre. It is an extremely tense piece of theatre but so exciting and something that every theatre and literature lover should go and see – it is a true classic and I do not know why I have never seen it before.