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BWW Review: AN INSPECTOR CALLS, Playhouse Theatre, 10 November 2016


Director Stephen Daldry's production of J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls was first seen 24 years ago at the National Theatre and has finally returned to London's West End after a long UK tour.

The Birlings' dollhouse-like home stands on a platform above the rest of the stage, part of a cleverly designed set by Ian MacNeil. As young children cower in the street looking for cover at the sound of the air raid siren, our first glimpse of the Birling family is in the dining room, high above the rest of the stage, emphasising their social standing and the belief that they are above reproach.

They're enjoying a dinner party to celebrate daughter Sheila's (Carmela Corbett) engagement when the arrival of the mysterious Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan) literally blows the walls of their safe and comfortable bubble apart, as everyone's secrets are revealed following the death of a young girl, Eva Smith. Goole reveals that she was brought into the infirmary earlier that evening after drinking disinfectant to kill herself. As each member of the Birling family are questioned individually by Goole, they realise they all played a part in the woman's death.

Priestly does instil a ray of hope in the younger generation: as their parents refute any responsibility in the girl's downfall, it is their son Eric (Hamish Riddle) and daughter Sheila who realise how their family dynamics have changed. Given the current political climate, it's refreshing to see that even in the 1940s, the younger generation were seen as the hope for the future with their more liberal ideals and strong ethical beliefs, just as they are now.

Barbara Merten shines in her role as the matriarch with her cold-hearted tone and imperiousness leaving even her own husband fearful of her. Stephen Daldry ensures that there is never a dull moment, and the entire cast works well together to create a seamless, well-oiled and still extremely relevant production.

An Inspector Calls is at the Playhouse Theatre until 4 February 2017.

Read our interview with Clive Francis

Photo Credit: Mark Douet

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