The twisting plot of JB Priestley’s classic An Inspector Calls cast a web of intrigue amid capitalist greed across the stage at The Regent Theatre, in Stoke-on-Trent, this week.
Ushering in the dark nights of autumn perfectly, this darkly atmospheric tale sees the cold descend and the fog gather as the lives of one horribly privileged family are unmasked and laid bare as the Regent Theatre’s stage is transformed into an early 20th century street scene.
Perched on a pedestal of their own creation, the Birling family, along with their daughters’ newly announced fiancé Gerald Croft, are set for a fall from the moment Inspector Goole knocks on their door.
Cleverly told, the play recounts the grim, uncaring actions of this entitled family who have utter belief in their right to act without impunity and consequence at the expense of the working classes that they view as beneath them.
The stage set sees the family stand above the inquiring inspector, local children and their servant Edna – looking down on the world from their gilded existence. As the play progresses each member of the family is forced to make that symbolic journey down the steps to street level as they narrate their own fall from grace in the context of the inspector’s quest to understand why a young woman has been driven to take her own life.
The strength of the play relies on the quality of the individual performances, which in this case are excellent, captivating the audience with deft characterisations. The cast played their parts to great effect with Liam Brennan putting in a commanding performance as the unflappable and righteous Inspector Goole. His cool calm delivery being the anchor for the play as the story gradually unfolds. As he encourages the members of the family to narrate their own downfall, they each give a characterful performance that allows the script to come to life.
Evlyne Oyedokun is excellent as the emotional Sheila Birling, offering an honesty and insight that eludes her entitled family. Jeffrey Harmer carries an air of authority and misplaced integrity as the head of the family, while Christine Kavanagh is fantastically aloof as the haughty, cold Sybil Birling. Simon Cotton elicits a range of emotional responses as his character Gerald Croft switches from cheat to compassionate chancer, while George Rowlands is excellent as the selfish, rakish Eric Birling.
Delivered as a one act play at The Regent, this continuity helps to maintain the suspense and fluidity of the story, while the score and lighting add a dark, foreboding atmosphere. While the size of the audience and the venue may have at first felt like a slight distraction from the action onstage, the power of the performances overrode the audience noise to make for compelling theatre.
This performance of An Inspector Calls is a classic tale, told well and brimming with atmosphere. Set more than 100 years ago, this story of class and the cruel divide between rich and poor is just as relevant as it ever was. An Inspector Calls is at The Regent Theatre until Saturday, October 8; book tickets online.