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REVIEW: An Inspector Calls (UK Tour)

Updated: Apr 2

National Theatre 30th Anniversary UK Tour

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

23 May 2023


An Inspector Calls UK tour 2023

First performed in 1945 and set in 1912, J B Priestley's 'An Inspector Calls' is a play that many UK students and audiences are familiar with.

Now 30 years since its first performance at the National Theatre (in 1992), Stephen Daldry's acclaimed production has been touring the UK and ends its run this week at its final venue in Glasgow.

As the curtain rises we are greeted with a dark and dramatic scene: a cobbled street, lashing rain and fog. Curious children peer at an imposing house, and as voices start to emanate from inside, both the children and the audience lean closer to tune-in to their conversation.

The cast of An Inspector Calls. Photo by Mark Douet.

The Birling family have come together with Mr Gerald Croft to celebrate his engagement to their daughter Sheila. The Birling house rises on stilts from out of the depth of the stage truly towering over those on the streets below them. The setting is opulent and the costumes are stunning: there is no doubt this is an upper class dinner that we are eavesdropping on.

The staging and set by Ian MacNeil is instantly impressive. With lighting by Rick Fisher and sound by Sebastian Frost, the house and it's occupants are a stark contrast to the rest of the set on stage. It's beautifully done and only becomes more clever and effective as the play progresses.

The set is one of the most dramatic and impressive aspects of this play and really makes this production the stand-out success that it is.

When an Inspector Goole arrives on the scene (the magnificent Liam Brennan), the Birling's are literally brought down to earth one by one. Again here lighting is used to great effect, brightening and darkening, building the tension and suspense with each new revelation. Thank goodness the action wasn't confined to a single room set; Stephen Daldry's direction brings the family and the tensions into the open and closer to the audience. It's truly inspired.

Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole in An Inspector Calls. Photo by Mark Douet.

We the audience and the family both learn from the policeman that a young lady, Eva Smith, has committed suicide earlier that day by ingesting disinfectant. As the mysterious inspector questions each of the bewildered dinner guests, we all come to know of their various involvements with Eva and their feelings of guilt and responsibility - or otherwise!

It's a classic play for a reason, and even though I was familiar with the text, this production managed to hold my attention and interest throughout. There is plenty of movement across the stage and and a growing feeling of jeopardy as the family's stress rises. Props are used to great effect and I can't help but feel sorry for whomever needs to put everything back together for the next performance.

The seven lead actors on stage are, without exception, fantastic. There is a real feeling of quality about this production and the cast deliver each line impeccably. The characters, although not particularly likable, are entirely believable.

Frances Campbell's Edna doesn't say much as the Birling's long-suffering housekeeper, but she is such a fine, physical actor that many of the laughs came from her antics. She scurries around, never the focal point but always present, and always up to something. Her facial expressions let us know that she feels as much contempt for the Birlings as the Inspector does. It's a glorious performance!

The cast of An Inspector Calls. Photo by Mark Douet.

By its nature, this play is dialogue heavy, and does rely on the audience being completely quiet in order for every word to land. Unfortunately that's never going to happen; with thousands of people enclosed in an auditorium there's always going to be coughing and sweetie paper rustling, and I found I missed a few lines here and there.

The original three act text is also run here as a single, 1 hour 45 minute performance, with no interval. Now I do enjoy an early finish! Out, home and in pyjamas by 10:30? Yes please. But the squirming and restlessness of the audience only grows with the running time.

Perhaps if a way could be found to break the action at the 55 minute mark, the audience (and undoubtedly the concession and bar managers!) would be more comfortable. Although I do understand these decisions are usually made for very good reasons.

The cast of An Inspector Calls. Photo by Mark Douet.

With An Inspector Calls the important points that Priestley aimed to make about society, class and responsibility are just as relevant today as they were at the time of writing. Perhaps even more so.

The Inspector makes a speech which boils down to "Be Kind". You never know what challenges someone else is dealing with or how many burdens they've already had to endure. Take responsibility for your own actions or else reap the consequences.

How many times do we see something similar said on social media after yet another high-profile suicide? And despite all the good intentions (or is it just lip-service?) we don't seem to learn and it happens time and again.

I'm a big advocate of 'Be Kind' and I know all too well the devastating impact that words and actions can have. You may not expect to be reminded of such things by making a trip to the theatre to watch a 100 year old thriller, but Priestley's play gives old and new generations so much to ponder and debate there's no wonder it continues to be a part of the English curriculum today.

Don't read the play, come and watch this excellent cast and dramatic set bring it to life! It's much more memorable - I promise.


📸 Production photos: Mark Douet



🎟️ Playing at the Theatre Royal Glasgow until Saturday 27th May 2023, more info and tickets here:


A review of An Inspector Calls, play (National Theatre 30th Anniversary UK Tour) Theatre Royal, Glasgow, May 2023

Disclaimer: *I was invited to review this show by ATG Glasgow. I received a comp ticket in exchange for my review. Whether I am gifted a ticket or not has absolutely no impact on my reviews or star ratings.

📸 Follow @Lisa_InTheTheatre on Instagram for more photos and videos.

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