Effects Too Dramatic For Inspector?
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REVIEW: ‘An Inspector Calls’ – Mayflower, Southampton 5th April 2016 – by David Cradduck
An Inspector called at The Mayflower tonight and turned the idyllic Industrialist Birling family on its Edwardian head, as he has done for many years. The script is faithful and the characterisations also. But that’s where the faithfulness ends.
Strong and inspiring direction by Stephen Daldrey (Billy Elliot) and powerful performances from all the cast, keep the tension going from start to finish. Liam Brennan’s performance as the Inspector is solid and dour as it should be, although sadly he gets rather too shouty and emotionally involved to be too sinister or mysterious. Geoff Leesley, stage and small screen veteran, is excellent as self-important Arthur Birling and is well complemented by Caroline Wildi as his haughty wife, Sybil. Gerald Croft, son-in-law to be with a dark secret (like the rest of them), is played with full bluster and emotion by Matthew Douglas and the son and daughter Birlings, shallow Sheila and insecure Eric, are admirably portrayed by Katherine Jack and Hamish Riddle.
Perhaps Stephen Daldrey’s direction demands it but at times the last two seem a bit over the top in the hysterics department and there is an awful lot of irrelevant flinging of jackets and various other garments and props around, one or two iffy stage slaps, fight sequences and pyrotechnics. The final tipping over of the house, the crashing of crockery and the ruin of the family’s cocoon is effective and certainly focuses the attention.
REVIEW: ‘An Inspector Calls’ – Suspense and Visually Exciting
Overall, I admit to being gripped by the sinister suspense and visually exciting presentation, even if the story itself gets a little sidelined in favour of dramatic effect.
However, I’m not sure I totally enjoyed this version of a ‘revolutionary take’ on a classic, now some years down the line and perhaps losing some of its ability-to-shock factor.
Clever, yes; dramatic, certainly; spectacular, definitely; well acted, for sure. But is it all a little too clever for its own good? I fully accept the symbolism of the faded grand house reduced in size to allow the characters to look too big (although the entrances and exits through the miniature front door look faintly Alice In Wonderland-ish and a little awkward for the larger members of the cast to negotiate). I get the blurring of timelines and the inner 1912/outer WW2 plays running concurrently. I understand the bringing down of the Birlings from their great social standing to join the rest of us mere mortals in the grey wastelands. I even approve of the Supernumaries and ragged children pressing home the morality and judgment factors by providing an extra audience, a jury if you like.
But to me, the success of J B Priestley’s mysterious Inspector Goole (did he really exist or was he just a ghoul, or even a moral symbol?) is in the wonderful script and I feel that at times those words that he wrote and the scenes he created by writing them get rather lost in the diversion of special effects, visual spectacle and a rather irritating, dramatic (recorded) and unnecessary incidental score which comes and goes at random intervals and often drowns out the actors.
An Inspector Calls runs at The Mayflower until Saturday 9th April when it transfers to Cardiff.