Theatre Royal Concert Hall Nottingham – until Saturday 21st January 2023
Reviewed by Amarjeet Singh
I cannot describe the atmospheric, eerie opening to this play, it’s something you simply must experience, and it sets the tone for what can only be described as a riveting and thought-provoking piece of theatre. This production of An Inspector Calls at the beautiful Theatre Royal Concert Hall Nottingham is stunning. Surrounded by swaths of excited school children, I was transported back to my own days of study when this story hit home hard, and it’s certainly a production which reflects the zeitgeist of today. Set in a single night in 1912, An Inspector Calls cements JB Priestley’s position as a cutting-edge mover in a socialist movement, believing ‘We must stop thinking in terms of property and power and begin thinking in terms of community and creation’. As the curtain lifts, your senses are assaulted by rain, smoke and booming drums. Lowly slums skirt a house that stands high, announcing the divide which becomes ever more apparent between the classes as the story unfolds.
The garish Birling family home, standing centre stage like Baba Yaga’s hut, hosts a boastful dinner party which is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Inspector Goole. Shattering the equilibrium with his incessant investigations into the demise of a young woman, his ever-shocking revelations unravel the very core of the family, forcing them to question behaviours, actions, motives and perhaps, challenging us all to examine our consciences.
The stark contrast of an entitled, greedy, family who had it all, against the story of a poor, hardworking, young woman who had nothing, except courage and morals is not an unfamiliar one, but Priestly tells it so well. Then, when she tried to do the right thing, protect others at the cost to herself and sought support from those who had more than enough to help, she had everything stripped from her and was left with no option but to take drastic action, the tale is gut wrenching in every sense. Think ‘Columbo’ as the Inspector establishes that each of them has played a part in the girl’s decline and ultimate demise, either through selfishly pursuing their own interests or through careless disregard or cruelty. We know the crime, but we don’t know who was responsible, and how. The twists and turns keep you on the edge of your seat throughout and there were audible gasps more than once from the audience.
With no interval and a limited cast, the production was intimate and intense, which added to the tension. The staging from Ian MacNeil’s, with his brilliantly intricate design, never failed to surprise and impress. Unfolding before your eyes the set came to life and then became undone, as if it were a player in itself. The cast utilised the stage to perfection, and what could have been a dialogue heavy, stilted production, was instead, dynamic and punchy.
Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole, Simon Cotton as Gerald Croft and Jeffrey Harmer as Mr Birling gave powerful performances, bringing to life and fleshing out each character. Christine Kavanagh as Mrs Birling and Chloe Orrock as Sheila Birling were sublime as mother and daughter, but George Rowland as Eric Birling stole the show. His development and nuances were perfection.
There is no doubt in my mind why An Inspector Calls is a Winner of 19 major awards and hailed as the theatrical event of its generation worldwide, and this particular adaptation is a must-see performance.