An Inspector Calls, review, Richmond Theatre, London, November 2011.

There’s a lovely conjuring trick using a box having a top, four sides and no bottom. You open it out to show that it’s empty, then close it up again and produce things from the inside. I thought of this in seeing Stephen Daldry’s interesting production of J. B. Priestley’s 1945 play, with the inspector as the magician, and the five other main characters as the top and sides of the box. The difference here is that the box at first appears to be full, then empty … but then as the sides close up again there really is something there!

This is, after all, entertainment, and scores of teenage girls sitting near me in the audience loved it. The production shows the participants as caricatures, with the inspector as a forceful Scotsman played by Tom Mannion, and I particularly liked Kelly Hotton as the daughter. The players showed plenty of melodrama, exhibiting the pretensions and presumptions inherent in the class system, and rendering this play excellent material for GCSE, which is why the teenagers were there.

The setting was presumably pre-First World War, but the boy who switches on a radio gives a curious disjunction in time, providing the occasional use of music, which made a powerful contribution. Both time and space are disjointed, and the designs by Ian MacNeil, with small doorways and windows in the house made the characters larger than life. The occasional use of supernumeraries helped give an air of reality behind the selfish concerns of the dinner guests, and the aspect of society at large being more important than a few individuals is very topical in view of present worries about the Euro and the disaffection with EU bureaucracy that is being felt across Europe.

This powerful drama by J. B. Priestly plays tricks with time, with guilt about the past and precognition about the present — the now but not here that we don’t yet see. The box is empty, yet also stuffed full — well worth a visit as it tours Britain.

Performances in Richmond continue until November 19 — for details click here. It then tours to: Bromley, Churchill Theatre, Nov 22–26; High Wycombe, Swan Theatre, Nov 29–Dec 3; Plymouth Theatre Royal, Dec 6–10. In 2012 the tour dates are: Blackpool Grand Theatre, Jan 9–14; Norwich Theatre Royal, Jan 17–21; Nottingham Theatre Royal, Jan 24–28; Salford, The Lowry, Jan 31–Feb 4; Belfast Grand Opera House, Feb 7–11; Dublin Gaiety Theatre, Feb 14–18; Glasgow Theatre Royal, Feb 21–25; Aberdeen HMT, Feb 28–Mar 3; Bradford Alhambra, Mar 6–10; Aylesbury Waterside, Mar 20–24; Cardiff New Theatre, Mar 27–31; Swindon, Wyvern, Apr 3–7; Cheltenham, Everyman, Apr 10–14; Newcastle Theatre Royal, Apr 17–21; Sheffield Lyceum, Apr 24–28; Swansea Grand Theatre, May 1–5; Llandudno, Venue Cymru, May 8–12; Northampton Derngate, May 15–19; Wimbledon New Theatre, May 22–26.

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