NOTICE: CONTAINS SET SPOILERS
Rule one of theatre-going is don’t make a sound. Don’t turn your phone on, don’t eat, don’t drink, don’t sneeze, don’t make ‘witty’ comments to your neighbour – don’t breathe unless it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise you shall be faced with the wrath of myself, several frustrated English teachers and other theatre devotees. And rule two is see Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of An Inspector Calls.
Y’all know how much I appreciate brilliant staging AND DEAR LORD ABOVE this goes up in my list of ‘Fantastical Plays with Fantastical Staging’. Rather than blindly following the directions in Priestley’s original text, this version has used set design to convey messages that, once you understand them, have you going ‘ERHMAGERD’, jiggling vigorously with excitement, and then desperately attempting to explain the message to your bemused neighbours afterwards.
Instead of having it all based in the dining room, AN ACTUAL MINIATURE HOUSE is built on the stage, amidst the general street scenery of 1912 Brumley – cobbles, lampposts, a phone box et al. AND AND AND *steadies oneself, breathes, counts to ten* this represents the Birlings’ microcosm of capitalism and general introspective pompousness. If you have any prior knowledge of the play (as I do, having studied it for five weeks), you can imagine what happens when the Inspector arrives and exposes their darkest secrets. And if you don’t have a clue about the text, all I’m going to say is that hydraulics are involved.
There are other tiny details that have been included in order to reiterate some of messages – if you’re going to see this, watch out for subtle costume changes, the presence of some completely unexpected people, and Edna. Talking of the characters, the acting was pretty fine. Sybil Birling was (as I later said to my English teacher) ‘the QUEEN of sass’, and Inspector Goole has the best accent ever. Broad Scottish and totally the kind of thing that I could listen to all day. Although I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the portrayal of Mr Birling – too shouty in my peasant’s opinion – it was generally rather good.
But what brings the production together is that set. Talk about special effects galore. I’ve stammered and yammered about that for too long now. All I can say is, even if you’re not a fan of the play itself, go see it for the house.
In all, it was a wonderful experience. Wonderful set, wonderful theatre (Theatre Royal Bath is possibly my favourite place on earth), wonderful(ish) acting. Watch it – especially, if like me, you’re studying it at school. Incredibly educational… And not just in the conventional sense.
NOTE: I was told that if I did a ‘write-up’ of this, I should mention the seats. Wonderful seats. Seats. Dress circle, actually. Not too shabby. Wanted to be in the royal circle. But not too shabby.
We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.
Inspector Goole, Act Three