I joined a packed and excited audience last night at Hull New Theatre for the excellent production of JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. This must be on the GCSE syllabus as a large party of school students were in attendance; and from their excellent behaviour, they were just as gripped by this play as I was.
The play commences with children playing outside and air raid sirens whilst a “well to do” family are in their home having a dinner party. Along comes the Inspector, and we learn a young woman has died after taking in cleaning fluid. But what is the connection between the young woman, her death and the family in the house? The inspectors questioning of the occupants brings out a cruel side to their character and one by one they realise that actions do have consequences, sometimes fatal.
The setting was symbolic as is Priestley’s writing. With the air raid siren I thought it was set during the second world war, although the costumes were pre-first world war. The set itself was like a doll’s house with oversized characters. Mr Birling and Gerald had to duck under the door to get onto the balcony and the windows were all small sized. The front of the house opened up to reveal the dining room and as the play progressed, props such as stairs were added by the cast. The outside of the house was like a bomb site with cobbles rising up and a derelict, but working, telephone box.
Inspector Goole was undoubtedly the star of the show. Played by Liam Brennan, he is probing with his questions, making the characters think. The other stand out for me was Chloe Orrock as Sheila Birling. Somewhat irritating at first, the audience warm to her as she realises how bad she has been and that she needs to change her attitude to those not so well off as she is. She is also the character who tries to make the rest of the cast realise what they have contributed to. Christine Kavanagh as Sybil Birling made a grand entrance as she flounced onto the set in a regal manner. She was acidic and hoity-toity and brilliant. Linda Beckett as Edna the maid, a non speaking but very involved character was great. I don’t think she left the stage all evening, she was there quietly hovering to see to everyone’s needs.
Should you go and see this play? Definitely! Apart from being a classic, it is so well acted by the cast. It is not dark all the way through, there are snatches of humour and the script does make you think about how we can be nicer to our fellow human beings. There are loud explosions and some flashes of light. I could barely move by the curtain call after sitting for 1 hour 45 minutes but the time flew by as I was so engrossed.