BWW Interview: AN INSPECTOR CALLS Jeff Harmer To Tour & Enjoy The Awesome U.S. Sights Between Shows
Stephen Daldry's multi-award-winning revival of J.B. Priestley's AN INSPECTOR CALLS will land at The Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts January 22 through February 10, 2019 as part of its international tour. This production, the longest running revival of a play in history, has already been seen by over four million theatregoers worldwide.
I had the most lovely opportunity to chat up Jeff Harmer (who limns the role of patriarch Arthur Birling) on his history and experiences with this and other INSPECTORs.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Jeff!
Before you were cast for this tour, did you get a chance to catch a performance of Stephen Daldry's revival of AN INSPECTOR CALLS?
I saw the production when it was first realised around 1992. It was at the National Theatre.
Now that you're now onstage in it, has your memory of the performance you saw been affected in any way? Do you understand certain characters differently or more clearly?
I understand the characters more clearly through rehearsal, as with most plays. But my main thought is that when I saw it all those years ago, I had no notion of the technical challenges for the actors on the set itself. Rain and cobbles and exploding houses have to be dealt with carefully every night.
I think that Priestley's message through the play is a message for all time. Hence its constant popularity. Stephen Daldry's beautifully imaginative staging enhances this message with a stunning theatrical experience for the audience.
Did you ever see the original version of AN INSPECTOR CALLS before Stephen Daldry added his magic touch to it?
Yes, a couple of times, when I was a boy, in my home town of Eastbourne on the south coast of England. The productions were the standard box set and the action took place around the Birling's dining room table.
Have you worked with any of the cast or creatives in this touring company before?
Yes. I was lucky enough to work with Charlotte Peters, who is the resident assistant director of this production, Charlotte directed me last year in a production of BIRDSONG, a play by Sebastian Faulks set in the trenches of WWI.
How would you compare the audiences of London with the Washington DC audiences you've played earlier on this tour?
The American audiences are much more vocal in their enjoyment of the play, which is great for us. We also receive more standing ovations here.
I've had one director I interviewed tell me he found that people of different cities tend to have different familiarities associated to where they live (big city vs. small town, blue collar vs. affluent).And so, different emphasis needed to be tweaked for optimum regional understanding. Have any lines or colloquiums in AN INSPECTOR CALLS needed to be clarified more to the American audiences to play better?
We haven't changed any particular words or colloquialism's of Priestley's at all. In rehearsal, we were debating as to whether I should refer to the Inspector, who is played in this version as Scottish, as 'Scotch.' We decided it might be confused with whiskey, so we changed it to 'Scots.' I also have to say 'moonshine' which I thought might be confused with another alcoholic beverage. But apparently the audience understand that 'moonshine' in this particular case means 'fantasy.'
Any particular audience reaction on this tour take you by surprise?
Can't think of anything that stands out in particular. But it was a first for us British actors to see the Secret Service checking the auditorium before the play when a Senator came to see it in DC.
You still have two more cities in the United States (Chicago and Boston) to play before landing back east of the Atlantic. Are you anxious to return closer to your home?
This is my first time visiting the States. It is so exciting for me that , I have to say, thoughts of home are secondary. I'm just glad that my partner Jocelyn has the opportunity to visit me on this tour and see America for the first time too.
What is the first thing you place onto your dressing room table when you arrive at a new theatre?
Do you have a pre-show ritual or warm-up?
We are called in to the theatre an hour-and-a-half before curtain up, during which time all the actors do their own individual physical and vocal warm up. We are then required to rehearse the fights, which is compulsory.
In between shows, do you get a chance to explore the cities you tour?
Yes. We have just spent five weeks in Washington DC. It was the most amazing time visiting the sights and actually being in a city that you feel you have known all your life from television. I just couldn't believe it was real sometimes. Especially the Lincoln Memorial... awesome!
AN INSPECTOR CALLS centers around a dinner your character Arthur throws for his daughter Sheila's engagement. (How's this for a segue?) Any food from home you miss that they just don't cook right here in the United States?
Nice segue! I don't really miss anything when I'm here. We just enjoy doing everything the American way and taking in the whole experience - food, restaurants, transport, the lot!
Any particular city on this tour, you are or have been especially excited to play?
L.A.! As an actor, I have always been fascinated with film and American films stars. And the history of film in America. I want to see everything! Can't wait to see that great big sign!
By the time you perform your last tour performance in Birmingham November 16, 2019; how many times will you have been Arthur Birling?
Not quite sure of the exact calculations on that one. But by the time we finish in March in America, we will have clocked up over 140 performances.
Will this tour be the longest continuous run you've done in one role?
No, I played Bill , one of the three 'Dads,' in MAMMA MIA! which toured Europe and the Far East for a whole year.
What do you plan to do November 17 after your last show? Rest? Eat your favorite meal? Go directly into another show?
Well, I usually do Panto around that time of year. So, hopefully, something like that will turn up.
Thank you again for this interview, Jeff. I look forward to discovering all the intrigue Inspector Goole uncovers in the Birling household.
For ticket availability and show schedule at The Wallis through February 10, 2019; log onto TheWallis.org
For future touring cities and dates, log onto www.aninspectorcalls.com