The dimly lit street scene positions the imposing Birling family household as one of grandeur and falsity from the outset. The family are celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila and her future husband Gerald Croft, of equally good stock.
We see the foreboding Inspector watching on, before finally calling upon the family to break the news that a girl, Eva Smith, has committed suicide. He’d like to ask some questions.
What follows is a JB Priestley masterpiece, showing each of the family’s contribution to the girl’s death and how each allow themselves to take varying degrees of responsibility. The overall message is one that absolutely cannot be missed – we should all have more concern for each other, and more concern for how our own actions can impact others.
Liam Brennan is wonderful as the eerie Inspector, providing light touches of humour amongst the darker depths of his meddling character. The rest of the cast play quite horrid characters – entitled, rude and ruinous. The younger ones, Sheila (Lianne Harvey) and her brother Eric (Hamish Riddle) admit responsibility, but they’re quite so unlikable throughout that I don’t really believe they care at all. Andrew Macklin as Gerald has some sweet moments, though he does slip into a bit of overacting at times.
Generally, it’s the set and the atmosphere that create the wow-factor rather than the cast. Designer Ian MacNeil has worked wonderfully with Lighting Designer Rich Fisher to create a beautiful set that brings the street and the Birling household to life, seamlessly blending the two to demonstrate that we are all represented by the scenes that unfold before us. There is a glorious moment when the lights go up and we see the set for what is it without the spotlights, and it’s truly astounding how magical the wizardry of the backstage team is.
The sound (Sebastian Frost) is a little thriller-esque for my liking, given the play is more a social commentary than murder mystery.
Overall, the play is definitely worth a watch – it’s a wonderful play in its own right, and this production does it justice. The huge numbers of schoolchildren in the audience unfortunately meant the show was peppered with pantomime jeers and cheers, which ruins the atmosphere somewhat, but given a respectful audience of well-behaved adults, I think this would be one of my all-time favourites.
See An Inspector Calls at York Theatre Royal until 22nd September.