This 73-year-old but still relevant play took the audience on a sometimes tense, often humorous, journey with the Birling family as they receive an uninvited guest.
The set for An Inspector Calls at the New Wimbledon Theatre was perfect at creating an aura of mystery, with a towering house set against a misty night sky, contrasting with the bleak wet cobblestones outside.
The show began with the characters tucked inside the warm yellow glow of the house, apparently having a nice dinner, although this scene was mostly obscured from the audience’s view. However, when the inspector arrived the house opened up to reveal a small dining room and throughout the play characters moved between this elevated room and the street below.
Liam Brennan played a cool, quietly confident inspector with a Scottish accent, which helped him to appear at times warm but also added to his exasperated tone. His monologue, no doubt one of the hardest things to do in theatre, managed to come across as sincere and spontaneous, although compared to the rest of his exceptional performance was a little awkward.
MYSTERIOUS: Liam Brennan as the inspector. Photo by Mark Douet
All the actors were good at maintaining realistic but understated facial expressions and body language throughout the play, even when not the focus of the scene.
Jeff Harmer (Arthur Birling) and Andrew Macklin (Gerald Croft) both embodied the arrogance of the rich without it feeling forced or unnatural.
Sheila Birling’s ignorance and shallowness was perfectly depicted by Lianne Harvey, who managed to subtly express the character’s maturing perspective as the play progressed.
Hamish Riddle’s Eric Birling provided light humour with his drunken reactions and comments, while also portraying well the exposure of a troubled man as events unfolded.
Christine Kavanagh excelled as Sybil Birling and avoided falling into a caricature of an out of touch, upper-class society woman, instead giving the most convincing performance of the night.
An Inspector Calls is a classic GCSE text, and the theatre was filled with school children. It was interesting to hear their reaction to certain scenes, emphasising the pertinent themes in the play. When Sheila slapped her fiancée and gave him back the ring the youngsters applauded the girl power, and when Mr Birling hugged his emotional son, breaking his cold façade, everyone ‘awwed’.
STILL RELEVANT: Audience members arrive for the performance of An Inspector Calls
Director Stephen Daldry was slightly heavy handed with symbolism throughout the production, which was sometimes effective but often unnecessary and took something away from the content. The final few scenes included townsfolk suddenly appearing to watch what was unfolding in the Birling house, this added nothing to the plot and left us confused as to why they were there – presumably to symbolise the judgment cast over the Birlings by local people.
J.B. Priestley’s brilliant original work combined with the creative staging and strong acting will ensure that this play remains a classic for years to come.
An Inspector Calls is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 6 October. For more information and to buy tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/shows/an-inspector-calls-2015/new-wimbledon-theatre/
Feature photo by Mark Douet.