Thursday, 9 February 2006

An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley, Feb 9, 2006

 An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley 
 Royal National Theatre
 Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, Feb 9 to Feb 26, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb , 2006

An Inspector Calls is a thrilling and atmospheric theatrical production. Dirctor, Stephen Daldry’s, inspired vision elevates J.B. Priestley’s 1945 mystery to a new level of innovative, contemporary theatricality.

Priestley, a confirmed socialist, wrote a morality play that challenged the rights and pretensions of the English upper class and highlighted the powerlessness of the impoverished.

The enigmatic, dogged Inspector Goole (Pip Donaghy) arrives unexpectedly at the opulent home of Arthur Birling (David Roper), shattering their celebratory dinner party with his investigations into their involvement in the suicide of a young woman each of them exploited.

Daldry directs the virtuoso cast with attention to detail. Each moment has delicate nuances. The play is as much about the space between words as it is about dialogue. We see each thought; every pause colours the moment with emotion, questions and suspicion.

Dramatic tension rises as the ruthless inspector interrogates characters, peeling away their veneer of civility, status and control.

Ian McNeil’s startling design is a phenomenal feat of engineering. Stephen Warbeck’s music is haunting and penetrating and Rick Fisher’s lighting is evocative.

Daldry’s production is layered with metaphor. We see the cracks in the class system, both physically and metaphorically. The stately home cracks open to reveal a lavish, claustrophobic interior, echoing the shattering of the characters’ fragile outer shells.

Rain drizzles on stage, resonating with the despair of the victims. A poor child watches, peering through windows, always an outsider. A shabby group stares mutely, witnesses to the downfall of their oppressors.

The cast’s timing and delivery are impeccable. As Inspector Goole, Donaghy finds a relentless, terrier-like quality and balances blazing rage with cool irony. Emma Darwell Smith shimmers with a startled fawn naivete and a burgeoning awareness of her unwitting crimes.

The family begins to examine its formerly unseen conscience. Sandra Duncan shows the crumbling of Sybil Birling’s stately haughtiness and Roper blusters and bellows suitably as Arthur. Mark Healy portrays the decline of Gerald Croft’s arrogance into despair and Mark Field shifts Eric’s drunken giggling into outrage. Diana Payne Myers,as Edna, is the perfect silent servant.

Some audience might struggle with the subtlety, slow deliberation and allegorical nature of the play but this is a magnificently crafted piece of theatrical genius with a director’s enthralling vision alive in every moment.

By Kate Herbert

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