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Review: An Inspector Calls @ Lichfield Garrick

Plays with a moral message have more or less been out of fashion since about the time Cole Porter wrote the prescient lyrics for Anything Goes, but JB Priestley was a clever old thing who knew just how to write a play that holds the attention and which in terms of structure was definitely ahead of its time.

Perhaps his most enduring success, An Inspector Calls, penned in 1946 is a play which constructs and then deconstructs itself in a way which even today seems somewhat avant-garde. Certainly I can’t think of a successful stage narrative which takes similar liberties until we get to Sondheim, making this a particularly interesting revival by the Players of one of their landmark productions to mark their seventieth (honest) anniversary directed with superb pacing by Carol Lawford.

It’s a hard job to review An Inspector Calls without revealing the plot, so I’ll just say that the complacent pre-First World War mill-owning Birling family are celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila to highly suitable suitor Gerald Croft. But when the sinister Inspector Goole (Ghoul – geddit?) calls unexpectedly to announce the death of one of their employees, (an admirably controlled performance here by Phil Shaw) revelation follows revelation until the whole family’s conceit is rather satisfyingly in shreds.

Ian Parkes is excellent as Arthur Birling the self-satisfied capitalist father whose moral example infects the whole family. Andrew Henshaw gives a very good account of himself as the smugly righteous Gerald Croft who is celebrating his engagement to daughter of the house Sheila Birling, played here by the delightfully natural Grace Deavall whose reactions as the moral mess unfolds seem entirely spontaneous and unaffected.

Adrienne Swallow has total stage authority as her morally compromised mother Sybil who at first affects shock at the revelations before deciding to overlook them Lady Bracknell style when the inconvenience of actually taking them seriously begins to sink in. But the surprise of the play is John Cleaver as the wonderfully febrile, dissipated son Eric who becomes genuinely stricken when the results of his debauched, criminal actions are laid out in cold blood.

An Inspector Calls runs with matinees until Sunday 20th October. Do try and see it, especially if it’s new to you, that is if you can get a seat – it’s a set text and the first night was packed, agreeably, with attentive GCSE students who now know just how Priestley should be played.

An Inspector Calls runs in the Garrick Studio until Sunday (October 20). For tickets go online at www.lichfieldgarrick.com or phone the box office on 01543 412121.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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