A crass examination

A spectacular set is let down by poor timing in An Inspector Calls, writes Sarah Smith

Having seen, and loved, Stephen Daldry’s production of An Inspector Calls five years ago, I had high expectations for this performance. Unfortunately, whilst the performance on a whole was up to the standards I was hoping for, there were some aspects which left me sorely disappointed.

One of the true stars of this particular production is the set itself: an Edwardian mansion raised up on stilts in the middle of a damp and misty cobbled street. It opens up like a dolls’ house to reveal the actors inside, before becoming a spectacular metaphor for the family’s downfall towards the end. In fact, it is worth going to see this production for this aspect alone.

One hugely disappointing aspect of the show, is Louis Hilyer’s unsubtle portrayal of the Inspector. Shouting almost from the moment he appeared on stage, many of his lines were rushed and given bizarre emphasis. In a lesser role these flaws might have been easier to overlook, but the contrast between the inspector and increasingly hysterical family is integral to the overall impact of J.B. Priestley’s script. In fairness, Hilyer did seem to relax slightly as the performance neared its end, although he never quite managed to completely shake off a tendency to fall back on melodrama.

The timing of the main cast at times felt rushed and, too often, lines were delivered early and with a lack of care. A notable exception to this was Sandra Duncan, whose performance of the arrogant matriarch was far and away the best of the evening. Her sense of timing and use of the dramatic pause meant that she made the most of the few comedic lines given to her character, much to the delight of the audience.

Stephen Daldry’s production of J.B. Priestley’s classic thriller on the evils of captilism and individualism was first performed twenty years ago, to an audience still governed under the neo-liberal ideals of Thatcherism. Now, decades later, Priestley’s socialist message rings as true as it did when it was first delivered in 1945. It is impossible to hear Mr. Birling’s lectures on how one should forget any nonsense about being part of a community and not think of today’s banking chief executives, grasping for bonuses and pensions as their companies collapse.

Sadly, it seems that An Inspector Calls will always be relevant in this way, highlighting as it does the underlying selfishness of the human race. It will also, however, retain its ability to shock and intrigue its audience, right up until the last line. If the director had taken a stronger hand with some of his cast members, it is possible that this production would have realised its potential. Luckily for the audience, Priestley’s drama is so well written that, even if some of his characters’ nuances are lost, it remains absolutely captivating.

An Inspector Calls was shown at Theatre Royal; now touring.


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