REVIEW: An Inspector Calls – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

The popularity of Stephen Daldry’s award-winning 1992 National Theatre production of J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls shows no signs of abating, this 2015 tour marking the 20th time this production has been staged.

Set on a single night in the affluent Birling household, this scathing response to the abhorrent hypocrisy of the lingering Victorian morals that still pervaded Edwardian England, still manages to pack a dramatic punch 70 years on from its first performance.

The Birling family have gathered to celebrate the engagement of daughter Sheila. As the festivities go on inside Ian MacNeil’s teetering dollhouse set, a mysterious figure watches from the rain-soaked, cobbled street below. Revealed to be Inspector Goole, he draws the Birlings out one by one to question them about their involvement with a young woman who has killed herself by drinking a bottle of disinfectant.

As each learns their part in the young woman’s fate, Priestley fully utilises the play to shine a light on the society in which he lived.  A committed socialist, having endured two world wars, caused he believed, by the capitalist disregard for working people and the dysfunction caused by social inequality, we are in no doubt to which side the playwright’s politics lie.

There are many reasons why Priestley’s tale still resonates – the corrosion of a society with a sense of social responsibility and the disparity between the haves and have-nots is as evident today as it was in 1912 when the play is set.

It’s not all doom and gloom, for all the unpalatability of the Birling’s actions, Priestley does provide a glimmer of hope for the future as the young family members reflect on their actions and seemingly change perspective.

Daldry’s innovative, cinematic staging has had its imitators throughout the years and despite its age it remains fresh. What Daldry’s production does successfully is rescue Priestley’s play from being a dusty, drawing room, period piece.

Much of the success of the piece is the central casting of Inspector Goole. Liam Brennan’s extensive stage experience shines through, in his perfect diction and projection, and in a carefully modulated and perfectly pitched performance.

Deserving of the plaudits it has received through the years, it remains a must-see for theatre-lovers.

Runs until Saturday 7 November 2015 | Image: Mark Douet

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