Express & Star

An Inspector Calls alive and well at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre

It's April 1912, at the home of the prosperous Birling family.

An Inspector Calls

Arthur Birling, his wife Sybil, their daughter Sheila and son Eric are in the drawing room just after dinner celebrating Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft, son of Sir George Croft, and heir to the most successful family business in the North of England.

Their cosy celebration is suddenly interrupted when Edna, the parlour maid, announces the unexpected arrival of ‘Police Inspector Goole’. The Inspector has come to the Birling home as part of an inquiry into the death of a young woman.

As the Inspector’s investigation unfolds, secrets are discovered that link them to the tragedy. Those startling revelations not only shatter the foundations of their lives but also challenge us all to examine our consciences.

That story is told in An Inspector Calls, which features this evening at The Alexandra Theatre, in Birmingham.

It stars George Rowlands and Evlyne Oyedokun, respectively as Eric Birling and Sheila Birling.

George trained at Rose Bruford College, graduating in 2021, and made his professional debut as Boy in The Boy with the Bee Jar. Evlyne has extensive theatre and TV credits, including First Encounters: Julius Caesar (RSC), Head Rot Holiday, The Hope Theatre (Weighed In Productions), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Old Vic Theatre), The Cherry Orchard (Nottingham Playhouse).

Both are enjoying their time in Birmingham in An Inspector Calls, which opened earlier this week and continues to be a staple for English students everywhere.

George says: "I read it at school, although I can’t really remember much of it. But I did always like it. I always think at school when you sit down and analyse every single word it can make you go a bit crazy, and I always thought it ruined books and plays. But now that I’m an adult, or more importantly now that I’m an actor, I definitely have more of an appreciation for it."

Evelyn adds: "I actually didn’t study An Inspector Calls at school, I studied To Kill A Mockingbird. I’d heard about An Inspector Calls but I didn’t really know what it was, or really anything about it. It wasn’t until I got this audition that I actually read the play for the first time, and I still didn’t quite understand it. It took me a while to realise how many layers this play actually has."

The production of An Inspector Calls at The Alexandra Theatre is now 30 years old and yet still as popular as ever. Both of them describe the production as timeless and engaging.

Evelyn says: "Well, the fact that is has three timelines helps. It’s set across three timelines – you’ve got 1912 which is where the play is set, then you’ve got the future, which is the Blitz, 1945, and then you’ve also got the current now, 2022. It’s amazing. You’re flicking through the past, present and the now constantly, and it’s so reflective on humanity so it makes it so relevant, and people can really see themselves."

George adds: "At the end of the day, at its centre it’s a play about somebody in distress, and that doesn’t get old, does it? I think at different points in time when we’ve put it on over the last 30 years, it’s been relevant. And this time around I think it’s more relevant than ever because of what’s going on in terms of the strike action and housing crisis."

The beauty of the production is in the writing. Both play fascinating characters, with whom they connect.

George says: "Eric is well educated because he’s been sent to public school. He enjoys a drink, probably a little bit too much. The third fact is that Eric really wants to be respected by, namely his dad. Unfortunately, the combination of those three facts results in some pretty catastrophic things."

Evelyn adds: "Three facts about Sheila… well she’s absolutely besotted with Gerald. She is very self-absorbed and in her own world, as she’s been brought up that way. She absolutely adores clothes. It’s hard to give facts without spoiling it!"

While both Evelyn and George are in the early stages of their careers, they are attracted to good quality work. Both were determined to become actors and were focused on working in such productions as An Inspector Calls.

Evelyn says: "Oh gosh! With me, I actually didn’t ever want to be an actor, it happened by accident. From a young age I was struggling with people, and I never really spoke – I was pretty much mute to people I didn’t really know. My mum advised me to go and see a youth company at the weekends, so I did that, and I didn’t realise how natural it was to act as it is to live in the real world. I was a lot freer. That’s how I realised it’s the only thing I can do. Drama school taught me how to speak, and acting taught me how to be more of a human than I ever was."

George says: "I think it beat doing any other boring job. I did find out quite early on in Year 6, for the end of school plays we did Wizard of Oz and I completely rewrote the script because I thought it was rubbish, and obviously made my parts the best. I like storytelling and I like the creative and artistic aspect of it. With this production it has enabled that part of acting, and it’s been a really good creative process."

An Inspector Calls is currently touring the UK and will move on after this week's run ends. George and Evelyn enjoy being able to share relevant stories with so many people while also seeing incredible theatres and finding out about distant towns and cities.

They have top tips for making themselves feel at home when they're on the road.

Evelyn says: "I’m really bad at this stuff, a lot of people tend to make their dressing rooms cosy with nice blankets and things. I just bring everything that I have in my bag and that’s pretty much it. Some people put up fairy lights and flowers, but for me I’m very simple. With autism, as long as I’ve got really comfy clothes, a phone charger and headphones to cancel out sound, I’m all good."

George adds: "I’m sharing a room with Simon who’s playing Gerald. I don’t know... I think a bottle of water goes a long way. A bottle of water and some Vaseline is not a terrible idea – for the lips, obviously. I get chapped lips."

An Inspector Calls ends its run at the Alexandra Theatre tonight and moves on to The Lowry in Salford on January 10. It will also run at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre from February 28 to March 4 and Liverpool's Empire from March 14-18

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