An Inspector Calls

Rarely has the Theatre Royal stage’s potential been so richly exploited as in Stephen Daldry’s production of An Inspector Calls.

The nineties fly-tower allows for something epic, and designer Ian MacNeil’s exemplary staging conjures just that: from the atmospheric weather of the street scenes – real rain! – to the jaundiced glamour of the household at the centre of Priestley’s classic tale, every detail is poetically and masterfully executed.

The play explodes the world of the well-to-do Birling family, whose lives are turned inside out by the arrival late one night by a police inspector, some time on the eve of the first world war. As the characters’ inner secrets are exposed so are the set’s, in powerful and dramatic style.

Kelly Hotten’s portrayal of the young Sheila Birling is flawless as she crashes from darling to distraught daughter, emoting with genuine resonance.

Her bragging father (Geoff Leesley) and imperious mother (Karen Archer) personify their roles expertly; the old guard desperate to avoid public embarrassment at a time when seismic shifts are unavoidable.

Tom Mannion as the eponymous inspector is crisp and domineering, clipped and direct — the embodiment of inevitability — and John Sackville’s Croft switches suitably from carefree to contrite as his role in the sorry tale becomes clear.

Priestley’s tale avoids the trap of being a narrow morality tale, and Daldry and his cast elicit both pathos and levity from the script, flexing and tensing the audience’s emotions.

It is a rich visual and visceral feast that never misses a beat and a brave opening show for the Theatre Royal’s 2012: it’s going to be very difficult to top. Don’t miss it.