An Inspector Calls, Oxford Playhouse

GCSEs really stay with you, don’t they? It’s hard to be objective about a play when you find yourself anticipating lines before they’re spoken, words being dredged up from the depths of your school memories. So it was lucky for me that fond memories met with a quality production to make what was on the whole lovely evening.

An Inspector Calls has (quite rightly) been on the school curriculum since time immemorial. So too has Stephen Daldry’s iconic production been constantly studied alongside the playtext itself. Originally performed in 1992, Daldry’s 2019 revival is just as riveting and as spectacular to behold.

 

And it is a spectacle: the Birling family home is essentially a dolls house on stilts, a quintessential 1910’s vignette surrounded by a bombsite of a World War II landscape.

 

While the production value was fantastic, from stage to lighting to special effects, the acting itself varied. Alasdair Buchan as Gerald Croft is refreshingly comic yet somehow manages to never quite hit the punchlines he aims for. Christine Kavanagh’s Mrs Birling is gorgeously melodramatic, while Carmela Corbett’s Sheila is… obvious, to say the least. But the lack of subtlety is just as much the character as the acting.

 

It’s a clunky play, with explicit symbolism. Sheila Birling becomes progressively more dishevelled throughout, shedding her Edwardian views along with her white dress and aligning herself with Inspector Goole. Liam Brennan is an interesting Goole – far less mysterious and more angry than you’d expect. He does the best he can with the closing monologue, which turns this judgemental time traveller into a stereotypical preacher.

 

It’s hard to separate such clumsy sermonising from school room analysis, but it is nevertheless a powerful message of unity and community. It goes without saying that there are added overtones with this 2019 production, in a period of such political turmoil. Daldry’s was a revolutionary interpretation when first staged in 1992, and it’s just as impactful now.

 

It’s a timeless piece. But how I wish it weren’t.

 

Written by Catrin Haberfield

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