Review: An Inspector Calls at Aylesbury Theatre

PUBLISHED: 13:09 21 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:12 20 February 2013

Review: An Inspector Calls at Aylesbury Theatre

Review: An Inspector Calls at Aylesbury Theatre

Reviewer Stephen Bourke attends the opening night for An Inspector Calls at Aylesbury Theatre


An Inspector Calls, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

March 20 to 24, 2012

By Stephen Bourke

With an impressive array of awards to its name it was with great expectation that the National Theatre production of An Inspector Calls would be a masterful play and great theatre. I believe the screen version of 1954 starring Alastair Sim as the Inspector was one of the first films I saw on TV and I still maintain a vivid recollection of the increasingly sinister way in which the he sets about his task.

Regrettably this production falls far short of what was achieved on screen. It is so heavily laden with symbolism and irony it is about as subtle as a chainsaw in a butter factory. To my mind it extended this too far with the appearance of the elevated giant size dolls house which took up a large part of the set.

I know it is often thought that to get ones point across you have to exaggerate the reality but this was over the top as it made for less than comfortable viewing and Im not sure Health & Safety would have been too happy.

The basis of the play is a visit from Inspector Goole who interrupts the household as they are celebrating the engagement of Sheila (played by Kelly Hotton) to Gerald (played by John Sackville). The subsequent revelations are to tear the family apart one by one as the questions, nay, accusations by the increasingly aggressive Inspector (played by Tom Mannion) prick their consciences

The Inspector, whilst not acting in the least bit ghoulish has the best dialogue and manages to keep the momentum going. The other actors do not have that luxury and have to move around, up and down stairs, or flop on the floor whilst acting out their laborious dialogue.

To me this play does not have the timeless quality that affords it recognition as a GCSE, English Literature project. Whilst the moral of the play, that every man must take responsibility for his own actions still applies today, the method of demonstrating that moral is, to my mind, completely out-dated.

I assume J B Priestley chose the year of setting (1912) deliberately as being prior to the Russian Revolution and just before the shock of the First World War. I am sure the play would have had resonance then, but it does not now. It is not in the same league as Charles Dickens or George Orwell and seems to have been written by an idealistic socialist with a chip on his shoulder.

I will immediately apologise for criticising one of the greatest characters from 20th Century British history but having lived through the entire second half of the last century I believe I am qualified to provide an opinion. It was strange to hear World War II air raid sirens with everyone dressed in Edwardian costume and I guess it was another example of the over the top symbolism.

If this play is to succeed in the future and bring some relief to GCSE students it should be updated to the modern era like the same Directors (Stephen Daldry) production of Billy Elliot so that it has similar resonance and relevance to modern history.

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