An Inspector Calls: A Cohesive Production of a British Classic is the Final Play of the Perth Summer Season

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Poster from the Perth  Classic Theatre Festival. An Inspector calls  by J.B. Priestley, Directed by Laurel Smith. Classic Theatre Festival.     

Part social manifesto and part drawing-room drama, An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley is a play with a strong message about responsibility, caring and guilt. Add to this the playwright’s signature interest in time shifts and his criticism of class divisions in Great Britain immediately before the First World War and the scene is set for the inspector of the title to call on the wealthy Birling family and dent their complacency.

An Inspector Calls, which premiered in Russia in 1945 and in England the next year, is Priestley’s best-known play. It is frequently used as part of the British high school curriculum because of its value as an instrument of social history, as well as its interest as one of the classics of 20th-century drama.

As such, it fits in well with the Classic Theatre Festival mandate of presenting popular plays of the 1920s to the 1970s. It also poses a number of problems for any director because of its wordiness and lack of subtlety. In addition, audiences today are less tolerant of three-act plays (hence the usual condensation to two acts) and the often lengthy exposition.

Slow to engage, in part because of the style of the script and in part because of a large dining table annoyingly placed front and centre, the production, directed by Laurel Smith, catches fire as soon as Inspector Goole arrives on the scene. Played with cool precision by William Vickers, he delivers the perfect balance of quiet authority and a touch of menace as he draws out their level of guilt in the suicide of a young working class woman — or does she represent any social outcast? This point is underlined by the highly effective silhouettes created by lighting designer Wesley McKenzie.

As the blustering patriarch, Greg Campbell is an excellent counterpoint to Vickers’ understated control. Meanwhile, the beautifully costumed Elana Post offers a well-defined characterization of the superior matriarch of the household.

As the younger members of the family, Sheila (Anna Burkholder) and Eric (Sean Jacklin) exhibit more social consciousness than their parents. Both effective in their roles, they become vehicles of hope for the future. However, Sheila’s fiancé, the wealthy Gerald Croft (Fraser Elsdon) remains more closely aligned with the older generation’s view of the world, although, as Sheila points out, his guilt is lessened by true feeling for his mistress.

A cohesive production that delivers Priestley’s message with a sure hand, An Inspector Calls is the final production of the Classic Theatre Festival season. It continues in Perth to September 11.

Set: Lois Richardson

Lighting: Wesley McKenzie

Sound: Matthew Behrens

Costumes: Renate Seiler

Cast:

Arthur Birling………………………………..Greg Campbell

Gerald Croft………………………………….Fraser Elsdon

Sheila Birling………………………………..Anna Burkholder

Sybil Birling…………………………………Elana Post

Edna…………………………………………Breanna Critchley

Eric Birling………………………………….Sean Jacklin

Inspector Goole……………………………..William Vickers


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