No hushed silence during JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, now playing at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre. Like a breath of fresh air the packed audience of GCSE students cheered, shouted and clapped their way through this dramatic masterpiece.
JB Priestley, a committed socialist and prime mover in the mini-revolution that heralded the immediate post-war Labour Party victory in 1945 wrote this morality play to shell-shock post-war Britain.
The Birlings, the family of the play, are wealthy and self-satisfied Edwardians who encapsulate for JBP the worst elements of middle-class morality.
They are systematically demolished when an enigmatic police inspector calls while they are celebrating their daughter’s engagement to a well-off and well connected Gerald. Inspector Goole advises them that a young woman has committed suicide by drinking disinfectant and then proceeds to implicate each and everyone in her agonising death.
If JB Priestley was an explorer in time then so too is director Stephen Daldry’s inspirational and award-winning 1992 production, designed by Ian MacNeil, which manipulates the characters through time in a setting that is both weird and atmospheric.
The Birlings’ Edwardian mansion is depicted like a castle in the air, resting on its sagging stilts above the smouldering rubble and rain soaked streets of the north Midlands where mute onlookers are suffering the consequence of man’s inhumanity to man.
Liam Brennan plays a very much earthbound Inspecter Goole whose quiet but formable interrogation brings father, mother, son, daughter and her finance to their knees.
Very much to the fore is loud and forceful daughter Sheila, the first to show any remorse or compassion. A powerful performance from statuesque Evlyne Oyedokun.
Jeffrey Harmer is quite splendid as the blustering Arthur Birling and Christine Kavanagh is his imperious wife who is reduced to a soggy caricature of her former self. Here are a pair who find it hard to ‘learn lessons’ unlike their daughter or a grovelling drunk son played by George Rowlands.
Simon Cotton takes on the confident hard-nosed finance who it seems to have shown has shown for a short while some kindness to the poor unfortunate victim.
This play is as powerful and as pertinent today as when it was first written has a final twist to it tail which will leave you wondering just who what and where from is that Inspector Goole.