An Inspector Calls

J.B. Priestley
Mayflower, Southampton, and touring
(2005)

Production photograph

This is not quite the production that riveted audiences at the National Theatre when Stephen Daldry first staged it in the Lyttelton in 1992.

Nor even that which filled The Garrick and other West End venues for much of the following decade. To suggest otherwise would be to sell short those early years performances of Daldry's spectacular account of J.B.Priestley's classic morality tale.

Not that this should cause first time visitors a moment's hesitation. Daldry's vision, and Ian McNeil's design, is in essential respects intact. The reality is simply that the fine-tuning that enlivens a long run in one place cannot be achieved on a major tour of some twenty provincial theatres. At least, not with the rare experience of staging required by this account of what every post war local drama group used to mount in a box set.

A strong cast is assembled for the long road from Birmingham to Oxford - via Glasgow and Canterbury. Alas, the budget does to stretch to live 'cello and piano, instead taped music raised to a level high enough to fray the nerves. The air raid siren, too, is unfamiliar if you ever heard the real thing.

Nicholas Day, who began his career in the same Chester repertory company as David Suchet, is a nicely belligerent Inspector. Not all his angriest interrogation is as clear as might be in the vast reaches of the Southampton Mayflower. Yet since everything else is borne easily to the rear stalls upon the old Hippodrome air, the problem must be one of elocution at full throttle- that and too much TV!

David Roper bombasts beautifully as old Birling with Sandra Duncan regally imposing as Mrs Birling. The nasty taste in her mouth affects the sweets in the dress circle. Mark Healy is the upper class Gerald Croft with Nick Barber as young Birling and Katie Mcguinness a strong, sympathetic Sheila Birling.

Elizabeth Ross, who began her career before Priestly finished this play, is the shadowy factotum, Edna, a delightful study in how to act out of vision.

The children, scavenging around the desolate provincial city landscape, like the accusing local society, suffer like the staging from touring practicalities. Yet Priest ley's heroes and villains still speak powerfully to our own times.

Property, he described in 1940 as an old fashioned way of regarding a country as a thing with a collection of things owned by certain people, instead of thinking of a living society with the welfare of that society as the first test. Yet the more I see this play, the more it echoes Margaret Thatcher's edict: " there are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people "

This production visits Cheltenham (Everyman April 19th-23rd, Coventry (Belgrade April 26th-30th), Cambridge (Arts Theatre May 3rd - 4th), Poole (Lighthouse May 10th 14th), Salford (Lowry May 17th -21st), Canterbury (Marlowe May 24th -28th), Woking (New Victoria May 31st - June 4th), Bath (Theatre Royal June 7th-11th), Nottingham (Theatre Royal June 14th - 18th) and Oxford (Playhouse June 21st -25th).

Philip Fisher reviewed the original run of this production (with a different cast) at the Playhouse, Steve Orme reviewed it at the Birmingham Rep and Pete Wood at the Everyman, Cheltenham.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole