This production strikes a strong resemblance to New Wimbledon Theatre’s curtain. It’s made of solid material, but with visible huge holes in its red velour and tufted fringe. This new rendition of the literary classic has great source material but gets a bit lost with sloppy stage presence and movement.
If you completed your education in the UK, you probably know the book by J.B Priestley, but let me just summarise the plot quickly. An upper-class family gathers to celebrate their daughter’s engagement to a rich son of a local businessman (no surprise there, it’s 1912 and a strong social class division is still going strong). Suddenly, the evening gets interrupted by a police inspector who came to ask questions to members of the family. Step by step, we find out that a young girl has committed suicide and many traces point toward the influence of family members on the girl’s decision to end her life…
The book is known for highlighting the hypocrisies of Victorian and Edwardian English society and is considered an expression of Priestley’s socialist political principles. In its 2022 stage adaptation, these points still strongly come through, and are sadly relatable, even after over 100 years.
When the curtain goes up, it reveals a breathtaking set. A huge Victorian mansion, looking almost like a giant doll house, surrounded by a misty, sometimes rainy little town, complete with a phone booth and a fully-working street lantern. The house itself is a piece of art. We first listen to the family dinner and peek through the windows, just to catch glimpses of the family sitting at the table. After a while, the house facade splits in half and opens completely, revealing a full view of an incredibly detailed drawing room. There’s colorful wallpaper, lamps on the walls, and a round table with a full elegant dinner setup. This show is worth its ticket price just for the experience of the set design itself! What’s more, the set hides some surprises, from real rain falling on actors, through the house changing its form by the end – quite literally.
The standout performance in “An Inspector Calls” definitely belongs to Liam Brennan, who returns to his role as inspector Goole, after playing it also in the previous UK tours of the show. His flawless elegance, calm voice, and gentlemanly demeanor combined with down-to-earth focus, composed a portrait of a perfect, mysterious inspector. He had this natural free presence on the stage, and what seemed like an effortless movement: between playing with his hat, folding a trench coat, or interacting with the street kid, he just seemed like a mix of a believable human being, and a real-life Sherlock Holmes.
I was impressed with Simon Cotton’s emotional load which he injected into his role of Gerald Croft. He has portrayed a tough, business-oriented man, who, only faced with the truth, emotionally breaks down and eventually admits to his guilt. I ended up feeling sorry for him – even though he was one of the characters who did the least “bad actions” in the play.
On the other side, I just couldn’t fully understand the creation performed by Evlyne Oyedokun, playing the role of Sheila. Her performance was for some reason exaggerated to an extreme, earsplitting and all over the place – and ended up looking like a panto role. Oyedokun used a variety of tones of voice, but mostly a high-pitched, annoying, cartoonish one. She was given the role of comic relief and created a whole array of slapstick moments which just didn’t sit well with the rest of the show.
“An Inspector Calls” delivers a fun evening for school kids and leaves a lasting impression on first-time young theatergoers. It still, after many years of touring the UK, impresses with a stunning stage set and fantastic lights design and is a marvellous occasion for a family night out. Beware, however, that theatres will be filled with young school crowds and the experience may be a little noisier than your usual theatre evening.
An Inspector Calls
Written by: JB Priestley
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Associate Director: Charlotte Peters
Design by: Ian MacNeil
Music by: Stephen Warbeck
Sound by : Sebastian Frost
Executive Produced by: Iain Gillie
An Inspector Calls plays at New Wimbledon Theatre until 17 September