'An Inspector Calls' at the Shakespeare Theatre
J.B. Priestley’s classic thriller An Inspector Calls deserves all the accolades it has earned over the years. The Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) is hosting this first stop on a national tour of the National Theater of Britain’s Landmark production of the play. All the featured actors in this production including Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole, Jeff Harmer as Mr. Birling, Christine Kavanagh as Mrs. Birling, Lianne Harvey as their daughter Sheila, Hamish Riddle as their son Eric, Andrew Macklin as Gerald Croft Sheila’s fiancé, and Diana Payne-Myers as Edna their servant, are making their STC debuts. They are all superb with special kudos to Christine Kavanagh whose Mrs. Birling’s every utterance makes us totally aware of her privilege and Liam Brennan’s Inspector Goole makes us believe there are still decent people in the world. After the warm welcome they all received from the audience on opening night at the Sidney Harman Hall it can only be hoped they will make their way back to DC again in other productions.
The play is directed by the brilliant Stephen Daldry. He has directed An Inspector Calls before as well as so many other hit shows. Many might remember him for his direction of Billy Elliot on Broadway in 2009 which earned ten Tony awards.
The incredible scenic design is by the amazing Ian Mcneil and wows from the moment the curtain rises with the help of three youngsters who represent all of us who are not of the privileged class. They like us will watch a privileged family try to justify their privilege. When the curtain rises you see a mansion toward the back of the stage with a dinner going on inside where there is laughing and drinking. We find out they are celebrating Sheila and Gerald’s engagement. Outside the house it is raining (yes literally raining) with the mansion surrounded by clouds and mist. I heard more than a few oohs and ahhs from the audience. Macneil is also responsible for the great costumes.
An Inspector Calls is set simultaneously in 1912, post-war society and modern day at the home of the Birlings, a well-heeled British family. The story really begins following the celebration dinner for the engaged couple when the evening’s fun is brought to an end by the arrival of a man who announces himself as Inspector Goole. He is investigating the suicide of a young girl and appears to have information on how each member of the Birling family and Gerald were involved with her and contributed to her despair.
This play focuses on the privileged elite who appear to have no conscience somehow finding themselves blameless even after all their entanglements with the young girl are brought out. The Inspector represents a social conscience and makes us believe if we don’t strive for a more just society we will continue to all lose. The play gets you thinking about how society has changed very little over the years. From Marie Antoinette who reportedly said about the poor and starving “let them eat cake’ to Melania Trump wearing a jacket with the slogan “I really don’t care, do you?” when she visited survivors of a disaster. Or Donald Trump sitting in the glitter of Mar A Lago for Thanksgiving while ordering the tear gassing of innocent women and children on the Mexican border.
An Inspector Calls will be at Sidney Harman Hall until December 23th. You shouldn’t miss it.