An Inspector Calls

J B Priestley
Arden Theatre Company
Arc, Stockton-on-Tees

Those (and there must be some!) who actually read the URLs of links will notice that this review of Arden's An Inspector Calls is in a different directory to those of the reviews of their two previous shows (A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Taming of the Shrew). They were in the /amateurtheatre/ directory whilst this one is in the /reviews/ directory.

So what? you may well ask. It is an important change, for it shows that they have made the transition from being a youth theatre (albeit an unusual one) to a company whose work demands that they be considered alongside the other smaller companies we review here. What entitles a company to this - and it could be a dubious privilege, for the criteria we apply to a youth theatre production are less stringent - is an imaginative approach to the piece, quality of performance and high production values. Arden's An Inspector Calls qualifies on all three counts - and it is interesting that the theatre, too, no longer advertises them as a youth theatre but just as a theatre company.

And Arts Council England (North East) has recognised their achievements with a grant which will allow them to double their output.

The back wall of the Arc's black box stage is covered from head-height to the lighting grid with ornately framed pictures of various sizes with, below, a door and various items of furniture, among which is a clock whose ticking grows ominously loud at significant points in the play. A red carpet delineates the playing area on the very wide stage and on it sit a chair, a sofa, a drinks table and a cabinet. Atmospherically lit by Matthew Case, this restricted space, surrounded by darkness, creates a real sense of claustrophobia. Simon Cole's subtle soundscape, linked with the lighting which flickers and dims as the thunder rolls outside, adds to this atmosphere.

The cast of seven play out this typically Priestley toying with time with total conviction. Daniel Hill's Arthur Birling is obnoxious and arrogant in his self-satisfied certitude (surely a prototype of the Thatcherian "there is no such thing as society" attitude?) and, as his wife Sybil, Nicola Jobson slowly reveals her character's selfishness, starting as some for whom we can feel a little sorry and ending as a monster of self-centredness.

Thomas Reynolds as Gerald Croft has a superficial air of concern and sensitivity but gradually is revealed as amother Arthur Birling in the making. It is left to the two Birling children to show remorse at the effects of their actions and both Peter Gordon (Eric) and Hayley Warwick (Sheila) capture the essence of these two young people. Sheila (a very effective performance by Warwick) is jolted out of her complacency and, like her brother, accepts responsibility - and expresses genuine regret - for her actions.

Over it all broods the utterly cold and ruthless in his pursuit of the guilty Inspector Goole, played chillingly by David Kirkbride.

The play runs for about eighty minutes without an interval and the time simply flashed by. An Inspector Calls marks the real coming of age of Arden, which crosses the boundary which separates a high quality youth theatre from a thoroughly professional company. Congratulations to director Robert Icke and his team. In September they are tackling Twelfth Night. I look forward to it.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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