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Posts Tagged ‘An Inspector Calls’

It’s twenty years since Stephen Daldry’s NT revival of An Inspector Calls renewed the theatre world’s interest in this oddest of British playwrights, who seemed very much out of his time in the last part of the first half of the 20th century. This very well cast 1937 rarity came halfway through his playwriting career, eight years before An Inspector Calls, and it again shows his preoccupation with time.

We’re at an inn on the Yorkshire moors on Whitsun weekend. Oliver, a young school headmaster, is recuperating from stress when he is joined by the Ormunds, a couple away for the weekend. There are connections between them and the landlord Sam and his widowed daughter Sally. Mr Ormund, a wealthy businessman, is a donor to, and governor of, Oliver’s school, which Sally’s son attends as a boarder, and Sam and Sally are shareholders in Mr Ormund’s business. Then an exiled German professor turns up; he seems somewhat mysterious, even psychic.

From here it’s a complex web of premonitions, alternative time tracks and deja vu, leading to a dramatic if inconclusive conclusion. Neatly staged on a curved platform with audience on both sides and three pieces of furniture that change position for each act, Anthony Biggs production has a mysterious quality to match the material. It’s not a great Priestly play, but it’s well worth catching if, like me, you’re interested in the playwright.

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I felt like I’d gate-crashed a party. The rest of the audience was clapping entrances & exits and whooping & cheering lines and performances. The set looked like one of those period rooms in a museum – ‘Victorian Mill Owners Parlour, 1908’ – which had come alive with all of these people in period costumes.

I’ve seen the play twice before – in 1988 with Patricia Routledge, Prunella Scales and Patricia Hayes (who had been the maid in the original production 50 years earlier) and 14 years ago with Alison Steadman and Dawn French – but this time it seemed much more of a creaky old warhorse, the stuff of rep and tours that rarely gets into the West End but was paying a visit and had brought its provincial audience with it.

It’s not very typical of Priestly, a playwright much more fond of moralistic pieces like An Inspector Calls. It’s a simple comedy about three couple who, on their silver anniversaries, discover their marriages may not be legal. It’s well structured and there are some funny lines, but it now seems insubstantial stuff – though in all fairness it was two nights after my second look at the extraordinary Clybourne Park.

The chief pleasure – and I mean this affectionately not patronisingly or critically – is seeing a bunch of old pro’s like Roy Hudd, Sam Kelly, Lynda Baron and Maureen Lipman letting their hair down and having some late career fun; in the end this proved a bit infectious and I warmed to it (though that may have been the third glass of wine in the interval!).

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