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Not one to miss - An Inspector Calls

The National Theatre’s production of An Inspector Calls is at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, until Saturday 4 March.

Review by Chris Arnot.

There’s fog. There’s a shower of water. There are children soon playing in the puddles it leaves. And there’s an elderly lady lugging a bucket before emptying something that looks decidedly sniffy on to the street.

As the fog evaporates into a lighter mist, the ornate frontage of an Edwardian house becomes clearer. It seems to be on stilts, elevating its evening-dressed residents above the stinking street below.

Not for too long, as it transpires.

But for now, the ladies have retired to the lounge while the male members of the Birling family are sharing a decanter of port – more than his fair share in the case of Eric Birling, the alcoholic son of Arthur Birling who owns a factory in the fictional town of Brumley.

With the so-called “gentlemen” is Gerald Croft who is soon to marry into the family. He has the suitable arrogance, contempt for the lower orders and a desire to make as much money as he can, albeit at the workers’ expense.

One of them, it transpires, was sacked for leading a strike to give women workers better pay. Her name was Eva Smith and she has since committed a particularly painful suicide.

Enter the mysterious “inspector” who begins to unearth the truths behind her hideous death. Each member of the family, it seems, has played a part in her demise.

Many a twist and turn is given a dramatic emphasis through almost breath-taking staging and pyrotechnics. At one point the posh house slowly collapses into the messy street where the Birlings have almost collapsed themselves under the inspector’s relentless questioning.

JB Priestley’s play was set in 1912, two years before the start of a war that was said to “end all wars”.

It didn’t.

Another world war began just over 20 years later. And it was towards the end of that six-year conflict that Priestley began hammering out his seminal work that caught the mood of the times. After all, Clement Attlee would soon win a Labour landslide with the most socialist government the UK has ever had.

Despite the return of many a Conservative government since, the play has thrived since being revived by the National Theatre. And it’s now part of National Curriculum. Hence the number of teenagers here on a packed first night.

Under Stephen Daldry’s direction, this production has won nineteen wards in thirty years. And here it is in Coventry as part of a national tour.

Not one to miss before An Inspector heads off to call at Plymouth.


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