Inspector lifts the lid of this can of worms

MORALITY tales have probably been around ever since cave-dwelling humans huddled around their winter fires.

J B Priestley’s old warhorse of a yarn about the sins of the sons being visited on the fathers perhaps doesn’t travel all that well – after all, callous self-interest now permeates all corners of the political spectrum – but the message has still lost none of its power.

This new look at the story, so beloved of am dram everywhere, is given fresh impetus thanks to Stephen Daldry’s innovative direction and Ian MacNeil’s stunning designs.

There are no cosy, chintzy drawing room exchanges here. MacNeil’s bleak house, with its chortling capitalists sneering at the poor at their door, is not so much upper class indulgence rather the sinister Bates Motel from Hitchcock’s Psycho.

This monument to hypocrisy and exploitation is perched on a metaphorical mountain of wealth, privilege and corruption. When the inspector arrives, the sides of MacNeil’s set are flung wide open, literally the opening of a veritable can of worms.

Jeffrey Harmer as patriarch Arthur Birling blusters with all the confidence of the pillar of the Establishment that he is, but it’s not long before Liam Brennan’s ice-cold inspector starts to chip away at the foundations of this house of cards.

And in a fabulous cathartic moment, the set actually does come crashing down, once again a superb piece of symbolism from MacNeil. Meanwhile, Priestley’s downtrodden masses gather at the gates as capitalism totters and falls.

There are strong performances by all the cast, particularly from Chloe Orrock as betrayed daughter Sheila and Ryan Saunders as the drink-sodden hedonist son of the household.

Priestley wrote his play as the Second World War was coming to a close, when the battle lines both at home and abroad were clearly drawn. Nowadays, they are far more blurred, with no particular ideology qualified or entitled to claim any moral high ground whatsoever.

Nevertheless, the piece still makes us examine the direction to which our own moral compass is pointing. An Inspector Calls runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday (November 9).

John Phillpott

 

 

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