On Thursday I took my GCSE students to go and see a production of J.B. Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ at the New Wimbledon Theatre. Understandably, when you go a see a GCSE text you assume there will be other students there, what I wasn’t expecting was for it to be only schools. This meant that there was a lot more audience participation than you would usually expect at a theatre; we had whooping, clapping, sighing, ahhhh-ing, wolf-whistles… everything. And this doesn’t include the talking, sweet eating and general loudness. However, I cannot complain.
The staging was incredibly thoughtful and clever. The play opens with children playing in the rain whilst the Birling family are in their dining room. This dining room is placed on stilts above the main stage and where you cannot see in, it is completely closed from the audience, all you can see is through the windows. What I enjoyed was the symbolism of this, the Birlings are completely cut off from the rest of society and are in their own metaphorical bubble. However, once the Inspector has arrived, the dining room walls are swung open so that the audience can see inside.
With each line of inquiry, the characters are brought out from the dining room and into the street, exposing their secrets and sins to the audience and the world. What I liked was how Sheila’s pure white dress started to become muddied and this symbol was continued throughout as characters became more disheveled and exposed. Without giving any spoilers, the set is used brilliantly throughout and is integral to the production.
Director Stephen Daldry’s take on the classic play was one that I am still unsure about. The Inspector was forceful, angry and frustrated becoming more aggressive in his manner and losing the calm, stoic power that I have often interpreted in the play. Mr Birling also became far more physical with his family, especially Eric, which added an arguably unnecessary drama to the play. However, Daldry took the minor character of Edna and created a funny and subversive woman who added a comedy to the play that it has previously lacked.
Overall, this was a successful production of a play that has been performed numerous times and can at times become tiresome. At times over the top and loaded with symbolism this was a fun production for the students that will prove helpful for their exams, as long as they remember that it does not stick solely to the script. One word on the theatre – due to the seating arrangements, if you are at the back in the stalls, you will struggle to see all of the action in the dining room because of the balcony seats. However, as the key scenes are performed ‘outside’ on the street you do not miss too much.