An Inspector Calls – and you’ll want to get the door.

The timeless classic written by J.B. Priestley is back in this National Theatre production, directed by Stephen Daldry. First performed in the (then) Soviet Union in 1945, Priestley’s play is set in 1912 in the fictional English town of Brumley and follows a story of an upper-middle-class family over the course of one night. Join the Birling family as they face Inspector Goole as well as themselves in this always-relevant thriller.

Credit: Mark Douet

It begins as a rainy night though there are no gloomy clouds in the Birling household as Mr Birling celebrates the engagement of his daughter to a man he’s proud to soon call his son-in-law. Yet, the peaceful evening infused with drinks and selfish talk of looking after one’s own is soon disturbed by an arrival of a man who calls himself Inspector Goole. His visit seems straightforward at first: a young woman died of suicide, and it is up to Goole to collect evidence and stories. Armed with the last remnants of Eva Smith’s life – a photograph and a diary, he questions the whole (very disinterested at first) family: Mr Birling, his daughter Sheila, her fiancé Gerald Croft, Mrs Birling, and their son, Eric. 

The interrogation starts with Mr Birling (excellently portrayed by Jeffrey Harmer) who immediately confirms to have known Eva Smith and admits to firing her from his factory for going on strike in demand of better pay. And while Mr Birling doesn’t seem to accept his fault in Eva’s doom and is more than happy to call it a night, it turns out he’s not the only guilty one amongst his family. 

From the very beginning, we are not invited to the party or the warmth of the house that illuminates from the inside. With outstanding staging, by Ian MacNeil, that deserves its own show, the audience seems to almost be as one with children playing outside, the forever observant maid (an inspiring act by Frances Campbell who gets the loudest laughs with minimum lines) and the Inspector who arrives at the scene. The barrier between the house and the outside world is a perfect meticulously staged reminder of the family’s privilege that contrasts with the bleak streets outside.

Credit: Mark Douet

But the house’s foundations seem to be crumbling down into the abyss of the family’s actions with the arrival of the Inspector played by Liam Brennan who, just like the rest of the cast, embodies his character and feels almost like a spokesperson to us, excellently showing frustration with this out of touch family. 

The entire cast seems to have made the characters their own by playfully exploring different personalities into a strangely functioning family in under two hours. Simon Cotton and Jeffrey Harmer confidently slip into their roles of privileged Mr Birling and Croft, while George Rowlands manages to create warm sympathy with his boyish act. But it’s undoubtedly the female cast that steals the show.

Sheila, played by Chloe Orrock masterfully navigates her character with a range of extreme behaviours and emotions, from ignorant and mean to thoughtful, while Christine Kavanagh is an instant caricature of Mrs Birling, bringing laughter and lightness to this otherwise sad story.

Grown-ups might roll their eyes at a little-too-obvious punchline that our actions have serious consequences and that we, as a community “have to share the guilt” of using privilege to harm others. Then again, it seems that this is the lesson we, as a society, still need to learn.

The Inspector’s tour of UK households concludes at Theatre Royal Glasgow with the last show on 27th May – make sure to catch him!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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