Review: An Inspector Calls, JB Priestley, Brighton Theatre Royal

an inspector calls
an inspector calls

THE POWERFUL subject matter and selfish characters are as potent today as they were when An Inspector Calls was first performed in Moscow in 1945.

Yet JB Priestley’s most famous play has been elevated to a higher echelon with a clever and surreal set, in a revival by Stephen Daldry.

It’s reminiscent of the animation in the film Coraline - in fact if Neil Gaiman were asked to design the set for An Inspector Calls it would look like this: strange, contrasting and sinister.

The house where the upper middle class Birling family live is built on stilts and opens up just like a dolls’ house.

It is opulently furnished and bright, while the Birlings are dressed in posh frocks and dinner jackets.

Outside it is raining, dark and forbidding, while working class children play in the shadows and grime.

The allegorical subtext is clear - the Birling family live in their opulent bubble, unaware of the difficulties people in the real world face.

As Inspector Goole calls them out of the house to answer for their part in the suicide of Eva Smith, they initially refuse to admit their guilt but instead strut around pompously.

For the Birling family, those in a lower social strata, like Eva, are there to be used.

But as the inspector makes them understand how they helped to ruin this working class girl’s life, they begin to realise what they have done wrong.

As the Birling family’s world implodes and they realise they have all been responsible for Eva’s suicide, the house collapses and explosions light up the stage.

Fascinatingly, once the inspector has left, the older members of the family retreat back into the house, back into their bubble, and they begin to absolve themselves of guilt for their behaviour and justify their cruel actions.

It is the younger family members who stay outside in the grey, whose transformation appears to be more permanent, suggesting that hope lies with the young, while the older people remain stuck in their ways.

The message is that we should look after one another, that those with money should not treat the weak with contempt, but with love and respect.

It seems that even today certain quarters of society could do well to see An Inspector Calls - the politicians claiming their expenses and the bankers greedily hoarding their bonuses.

This production was simply stunning - visually spectacular, spell binding performances and thought provoking.

You couldn’t ask for more.

Picture shows Edna (Janie Booth), Sheila Birling (Kelly Hotten) and Eric Birling (Henry Gilbert), with the rest of the family in the house in the background.