The autumn season of drama from the Torch Theatre Company got underway last Wednesday with a superb first night performance of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, directed by Peter Doran.
At the prosperous Birling family home in the spring of 1912, a dinner party is in full swing to celebrate the engagement of their daughter, Sheila, to Gerald Croft.
However, the party comes to an abrupt end when the family is visited by a man calling himself Inspector Goole. He questions them about the suicide of a young working-class woman, Eva Smith. During the course of the evening, each person around the table is revealed to have in some way contributed to the young woman’s exploitation, abandonment and social ruin, effectively leading to her death.
The play is set in the dining room, which was designed by Sean Crowley, and is both elegant and impressive. The room is square, and spins as each ‘suspect’ is being interrogated, bringing them into view of the inspector and the audience. Inspector Goole never steps onto the spinning area of the set, adding to the tension, making his presence felt.
Anyone who hasn’t read the play or previously seen a production of An Inspector Calls will certainly not expect the dramatic twists in the second act. Inspector Goole’s most prominent moment comes when he says: “One Eva Smith has gone – but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do.”
This speech comes when you think the play is near its end, but there are still more shocks to come.
They can’t be referred to in detail without spoiling it for others, but this powerful piece of theatre is sure to leave an impression on audiences long after they’ve left the building.
Aside from the powerful performance by the Inspector (Keith Woodason), the character who most stood out was Sheila Burling (Eleanor Howell). She starts out as self-centred, yet as the play progresses, she begins to show remorse on hearing of her part in the girl’s downfall. She becomes more rebellious toward her parents, and by the end is a much wiser woman.
Having said that, all seven members of the cast were exceptional, and the standing ovation at the end was more than deserved.
An Inspector Calls runs until October 23rd at the Torch Theatre. For performance times and tickets, call 01646 695267 or visit www.torchtheatre.co.uk.