Stephen Daldry’s famous mega-production of An Inspector Calls visits Wimbledon this week, as it prepares for another international tour.
Its sharp social comment on the casual cruelty that capitalism inflicts on the vulnerable seems to be getting more rather than less relevant with each passing year.
The production’s trademark is its impressive, conceptual set. The Birling family’s prosperous Edwardian home resembles a gilded birdcage or a miniature Titanic, raised on stilts above the stage. Below, hungry children of the working classes play in a Blitz landscape and a crone (the wonderful Diana Payne-Myers) doubles as a silent Greek chorus and the family maid.
The design is stunning and transformative, and is still working its effect on audiences 26 years and 4 million tickets since the production debuted at the National Theatre in 1992.
This revival has a new cast, and although the run has already been going a couple of weeks, there are still a few hitches in the flow of the dialogue and in movement around the stage. Doubtless these will iron themselves out over the winter tour of the US. Lianne Harvey is shaping up to be particularly good as Sheila, the Birling daughter who is the first to absorb the Inspector’s message about taking responsibility. Christine Kavanagh is majestically unrepentant as the mother, Sybil; Andrew Macklin alternates feverishly between arrogance and anguish as Sheila’s fiance, Gerald; while Liam Brennan is mercurial as the mysterious Inspector who is more of a recording angel than a member of the constabulary.
Wimbledon theatregoers will be lucky to get a ticket – even opening night was a sellout, with coachloads of schoolchildren rolling up to view the play, which is a GCSE set text. See it if you can, however – it’s an hour and 40 minutes very well spent.
Written by Jenny Booth