An Inspector Calls

J B Priestley
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, and touring
(2009)

Publicity photo

An intriguing play which has been doing the rounds for years, but I do not think this production quite convinces, though there are many good features.

It opens with a vivid recall of a World War 2 air raid, uncomfortable for the few who still remember, and goes back even further to 1912, when the well-to-do dressed for dinner, and talked in loud voices about how clever they were. This particular family were celebrating the engagement of their daughter to a partner in a similar business, when the Inspector called.

Inspector Goole is enquiring about the death of a young woman who has taken disinfectant in a successful suicide bid but does not explain why he has come to interview this particular family, though each in turn recognises a photograph he pulls from his pocket. The tension builds as first the father, a pompous, and not convincing local dignitary (Christopher Saul) who expects an honour shortly, explains that he sacked a young girl about two years ago after she led a strike in a claim for 25 shillings a week pay, which they did not get. Sheila, the daughter, (Marianne Oldham), much more satisfying, identified a photograph as the young woman who had been fired by her manager at a dress shop for laughing at Sheila when she tried on a dress which was obviously unsuitable.

Her new fiancé, (Alisdair Simpson) confesses to a previous indiscretion with a young woman he met in the Palace hotel, again identifying a photograph, as does his future mother-in-law (Sandra Duncan), by far the best played character, who looked the grande dame, and collapsed when confronted with her indiscretion of refusing financial support for a pregnant woman in dire straits. She was not to know that her son, Eric ( Robin Whiting) accepted fatherhood of a young woman he befriended and supported with money he had purloined from his father's firm where he worked, when he was not drinking.

The questioning of each by Inspector Goole, (Louis Hilyer), who they began to suspect was not a police inspector, while his playing suggested he was not in the forefront of the acting, with his over-dramatised confrontations, literally brought the house down, a dramatic event for which the Director, Stephen Daldry is famous.

It was certainly an interesting and unusual evening, allowing opportunities for the expression of Priestley's well known political views, but also encouraged a wider consideration of the meaning of wealth and power and how it could be managed, or mismanaged.

Reviewer: Philip Seager