Penned by English playwright J. B. Priestley, AN INSPECTOR CALLS has been performed, adapted, and revived in almost every medium available, including theater, cinema, radio, and television. Written in only one week and first performed in the Soviet Union in 1945, AN INSPECTOR CALLS is considered a classic of the mid-twentieth century English theater. After its first productions in the U.S.S.R., the United Kingdom (1946), and Broadway (1947), however, the piece remained relatively dormant, since it was considered an outdated drawing room drama. Set in 1912, the drama clearly reflected Priestley’s socialist political principles and has been called “a scathing criticism of the hypocrisies of Victorian and Edwardian English society.”
AN INSPECTOR CALLS was imbued with new life by English director Stephen Daldry for the National Theatre in 1992. Daldry’s revival earned prestigious awards as best revival in 1993 (three Laurence Olivier Awards) and 1994 (seven Drama Desk Awards and four Tony Awards). Several tours in different countries followed, as well as a variety of adaptations for film beginning in 1954 and continuing through 2017. AN INSPECTOR CALLS also found a home in radio and international television. Now this intriguing play, an amalgam of “the Twilight Zone…and Agatha Christie,” arrives at the Wallis Annenberg.
Times couldn’t be better for the elite Birling family. Arthur Birling (Jeff Harmer), a wealthy factory owner and local politician, has just announced the engagement of his daughter Sheila (Lianne Harvey) to Gerald Croft (Andrew Macklin), the son of the owner of one of Birling’s major competitors. It’s a marriage made in Birling heaven. Even though the specter of a war hovers on the horizon, this pairing is a cause for celebration.
And then AN INSPECTOR CALLS. Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan) has arrived to quiz the Birling family about the tragic suicide of a young lady named Eva Smith – who also went by the name of Daisy Renton. It seems that this very attractive working-class woman has had a brush with each member of the Birling family, including Arthur’s alcoholic son, Eric (Hamish Riddle), and Sheila’s fiance Gerald. Somehow Inspector Goole seems to know a lot of answers to questions before he even asks them – and he also appears to know when the replies are couched in distortions or outright lies. This inspector’s visit will clearly leave its mark on the Birling family.
Directed by the creative Stephen Daldry, the ensemble cast does an excellent job of spinning a tale of class inequality, guilt, and shame. The setting fits this ghostly tale perfectly. A spectacular mansion sits alone in a dreary fog-enshrouded English countryside. Inside and out, this is a place where something eerie is bound to happen. The production crew deserves high marks for this stunning production. Kudos to designer Ian MacNeil, as well as Rick Fisher’s lighting, Sebastian Frost’s sound, and Stephen Warbeck’s chilling music. Fight director Terry King also lands a few exciting punches.
AN INSPECTOR CALLS is a classic thriller and is guaranteed to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The plot will keep you guessing while raising unbidden goosebumps. Audience Alert: Just remember that this is a British mystery and keep a stiff upper lip.
AN INSPECTOR CALLS runs through February 20, 2019, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Bram Goldsmith Theater is located at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3990 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Tickets range from $35 to $105. For information and reservations, call 310-746-4000 or go online.