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An Inspector Calls - Limelight Theatre

Reviewed by Paul Treasure

 

What makes a play a classic? If it is a play that is well written, that speaks to its time, but also contains universal truths that make it still relevant and engaging to today’s audience, then J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls is well and truly a classic of Twentieth Century drama. This reviewer could write pages about his thoughts on the script, but there are already many more pages that have been written on that subject by better people than I, and talking in depth about the numerous revelations and surprises in the script would do a huge disservice to any theatre-goer who did not know the story before seeing the play.


While written in the immediate post-World War II of the mid-1940s, the play is set in the hopeful and prosperous pre-World War I Britain of 1912. The set, which at first glance is a simple box set as can be seen in a lot of community theatre productions, is impeccable. A very nice colour scheme and it is hard to tell where flats are joined together, to the point where the area that can be seen immediately outside the one door that is used is also fully decorated. The set dressing, a skill all on its own, is immaculate. The set is full of bric-a-brac and design elements that fit, but not a single element was noticed that stands out as inappropriate or wrong for the time. A very nice period-appropriate telephone is placed discreetly but prominently downstage right, drawing conversation at interval as to whether or not it was a clever utilisation of “Chekhov’s Gun”. The satisfaction when it is finally used towards the end of the play was palpable. Lighting and sound were appropriately mood-setting and atmospheric. The sound effects were well-timed and appropriate, and the use of music added considerably to the dramatic effect.


As the patriarch and matriarch of the family, Andrew Govey (Arthur Birling) and Christine Smith (Sybil Birling) were excellent, playing arrogance, anger, and entitlement with ease. The accent work on both of them was flawless. The choice that they should have different accents was a masterstroke, as it gave us a very clear indication of both of their character’s having well-thought-out back stories and quickly helped to establish both their relationship with each other and with the other characters. Andrew Brown played Inspector Goole with a very impressive matter-of-factness and lack of emotion. It would be very easy to overdo this character, but the decision to play him cool and dispassionate only added to his air of menace and foreboding and gave the character’s final impassioned speech even more of an impact. Helen Tudge was delightful in the thankless role of Edna the maid.


Placed amongst such a fearsome team of experienced actors, the younger actors were given a difficult task to try and hold their own. As the play developed and complications arose all three of them rose to the challenge and gave us searing portrayals. Ffion Bishop gave us a stunning portrayal of Sheila Birling, the one character who seemed to be fully aware of what was happening and the ramifications of their actions. Her disgust at the failures of the other characters to grow any sort of empathy or realization was brilliantly played. Eric Birling, in many ways the stereotypical upper-class socialist, was played full of righteous rage by Jack Riches. He played his character’s anger extremely well, never falling into the trap of being too whiny or too shrill. The emotion these two played in the scenes where their two characters had to team up against the rest of the family was full of real emotion but never overplayed. Most chilling, perhaps, was Jason Pearce as Gerald Croft. His intolerable smugness as the one younger character to back the older characters was viscerally disgusting. There are times in this production when I wanted to get up on the stage and slap his character fair across the face, which is a testament to how well he managed and conveyed this character.


Gordon Park has given us a very well-thought-out production. His blocking of the actors around the obligatory dining room table in the middle of the set was extremely well done, with the actors clearly seen at all times and rarely appearing to be stuck in place. The pace and energy were well managed, with all the suspense and intrigue keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, leading to conversations between audience members as they left the auditorium and came to terms with what they had just seen. If anything, this play which explores and condemns the extent to which the effects of privilege and entitlement affect ordinary people, is possibly even more relevant and timely today than it was when it was written eighty years ago. If you know the show, it is well worth catching this very well done production. If you have never seen this show before, this will be the most intriguing and thought-provoking couple of hours you will spend in a theatre for quite some time. Challenging your entire worldview has never been so engaging.


Cast of "An Inspector Calls". Image provided.

Reviewer Note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.


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