Express & Star

Review: An Inspector Calls, at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre

Audience members watched on in anticipation as an inspector called at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre..

Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole

This timeless crime thriller by J.B. Priestley, has been enjoyed by theatregoers, critics, and GCSE students for more than 70 years – and it continues to draw in the crowds.

Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole

An Inspector Calls is a play about individual accountability and collective social responsibility, as told through the story of the Birling family. Our actions have consequences and we have an obligation as human beings to take care of one another.

Set in 1912, on the brink of the First World War, the play begins with the middle-class Birlings’ celebrating Sheila Birling’s betrothal to the wealthy and charming Gerald Croft. But the merrymaking does not last for very long. Soon Inspector Goole (or ghoul?) arrives with the announcement that a young woman, Eva Smith, has died by suicide. He asks questions to uncover the truth about each character’s connection to Miss Smith. And in doing so, he holds up a mirror, forcing each one of them to self-reflect.

Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole, Frances Campbell as Edna, Christine Kavanagh as Mrs Birling, Evelyne Oyedokun as Sheila Birling and Jeffrey Harmer as Mr Birling

Despite the play being set some 33 years prior, director Stephen Daldry’s scenery harks back to 1945. It depicts a townscape that has been devastated by the Blitz. At the centre of the stage is a house – reminiscent of a doll’s house – which is perched on stilts. Images of the Birling family crouching under the doors and windows or gathered around the dining room table, highlights their confinement. Perhaps this is a commentary on how they’re ‘shut off’ from the ‘real world’ ­– the harsh reality of the working class.

Jeffrey Harmer as Mr Birling, George Rowlands as Eric Birling and Simon Cotton as Gerald Croft

The dynamic staging is proof that Daldry is a true master of his craft. The way in which the characters position themselves around it invokes the idea of a class divide. It is only when family secrets come to light – and prejudices are exposed – that everything (quite literally) comes crashing down.

The cast’s performances were outstanding all-round; I was holding on to each and every spoken word.

Liam Brennan dominated the stage in his role as Inspector Goole. His booming Scottish voice had undertones of melancholy and his compassion and concern for the lives of the masses was palpable. I was particularly impressed by George Rowland’s presentation of Eric Birling – the youngest Birling and somewhat black sheep of the family. Although morally flawed, I could not help but empathise with his plight. He’s in desperate want of his father’s respect, is yet to find his place in society and shows clear remorse in the part he played in Eva’s death.

George Rowlands as Eric Birling and Jeffrey Harmer as Mr Birling

Daldry’s production of An Inspector Calls makes a heartfelt plea for a kinder and just world. Its powerful, poignant message is one that still resonates with people to this day.

An Inspector Calls runs at Birmingham Alexandra this week up until Saturday.