INSPECTOR GOOLE, BACK BACK ON THE ROAD
Below, edited, is my original London review of this remarkable production. This new tour deserves to be marked, though: regarding the tour cast, Liam Brennan reprises Goole, splendidly, and notably elsewhere is Chloe Orrock as a particularly strong Sheila Birling and Alasdair Buchan an impressive Gerald. Its strength is undimmed: its social message useful, and now in the age of MeToo the echoes of recent assaults and contempts for young women hit even harder. And at the end of the first week of the tour, the extraordinary set behaved exactly as it should at the Oxford Playhouse. Which is a triumph in itself. You’ll see why when you watch it..
OLDER REVIEW EDITED:
Over 25 years on from its first outing at the National, Stephen Daldry’s interpretation of the old JB Priestley standard – not least due to Ian MacNeil’s design – is one of the most powerful stage metaphors ever. The smug Birling family are both elevated and nicely cramped – the physical reflecting the mental – in a bright-lit dolls-house perched above a misty, derelict city and its wandering urchins. The interrogation and revelations that rock them – and literally bring their house down – are staged like a ‘40s air raid, even down to the smoky, climactic moment when members collapse amid wreckage and are swathed in brown blankets by silent citizens.. Yet the house rises and brightens again in smugness, for a moment.
There was some astonishment in 1992 that Stephen Daldry, edgy new director, not only chose Priestley’s morality play but stripped away the fusty Edwardiana which had distanced its capitalist arrogance from our own. But it blew us away then, and does it again now, its force undimmed. Daldry, as we know from everything from Billy Elliott to Netflix’s The Crown, is at his best dealing with dramatic social and moral themes. And that this production is back to make a new generation gasp is splendid: I watched a matinee alongside at least two enormous school parties, blazers and hijabs all around me, swaggering or giggling in with squawks about “No interval? Whassat? Miss!”.
But its hundred minutes saw them quiet, breathingly absorbed and, more than once, gasping. Not bad for a 1912 play about a smug Edwardian family party visited by the artfully titled “Inspector Goole”, who gradually makes them all realize that each in turn – father, mother, son, daughter and her fiancé, has been – or may have been – complicit in driving a young woman to a horrible suicide. Liam Brennan is an unusually emphatic Goole (well, unusually for me as I love the Alistair Sim film, but it works)
Daldry and MacNeil’s sociali-justice metaphor of the rich house precariously aloft over a changing, struggling city could hardly be more fit for now: the arrogant, petulant, grasping rich literally besieged by the reality of wider society and refusing the lessons of justice. “If we will not learn that lesson” says Goole, to the audience, “we will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”. Behind him, in the cathartic moment, Mrs Birling is trying to polish her silverware, her husband blustering, only the younger spirits shaken into understanding the responsibility, long denied by old Birling, for “all having to look after each other like bees in a hive”.
TOURING to 23 May – Newcastle next