Saturday, 5 October 2013

An Inspector Calls @ Bolton Octagon Theatre, 13.09.13

1912, England. A new ship sets sail to the Americas and, says Arthur Birling, it is unsinkable. We learn the ship is named The Titanic. War? No chance of war, Birling tells us with great certainty; the Germans do not want war. The dramatic ironies of Mr Birling’s predictions are not lost on the An Inspector Calls audience.

Early on in the play we become acquainted with Birling’s seemingly happy family. They are wealthy, and we later learn they are members of the ruling class. The Birlings and family friend Gerald Croft (Kieran Hill) are in an excited and celebratory mood because Gerald has just got engaged to Sheila Birling (Rosie Jones). Eric Birling (Mawgan Gyles) is a little “squiffy”, and Arthur Birling (Brian Protheroe) is animated and keen to make a toast. Mr Birling comes across as a man whose love of his own voice is matched only by his love of business, and thus he is keen for his daughter’s engagement to bring him great business benefits. Protheroe plays the pompous, opinionated capitalist Arthur Birling with great gusto. Sheila is delighted by the stunning ring Gerald surprises her with. At first she seems quite na├»ve and shallow, but as the play progresses Jones develops the character of Sheila brilliantly, and we begin to feel warmth for her.

Along with the strong acting performances, the set and costume designer Ruari Murchison successfully emphasise their high status in Brumley society with an opulent setting: a chesterfield settee, dark mahogany tables, gold gilt cornice on the ceiling, a chandelier and other lovely lamps fill and frame the stage. The clothing too is formal: tailcoats for the men, and elegant dresses and skirts for the ladies.

So, among all this affluence Mr Birling is welcoming Gerald to the family. Mrs Birling, Sheila, Eric and Gerald are all quite jovial and joyous. They have an air of confidence and comfortable contentedness: all is right with the world.

And then an Inspector calls, and all their comfort and contentment comes crashing to the ground.

Many people will be familiar with An Inspector Calls as it is often studied in schools, and so will enjoy watching the events unfold with some memory of what will happen. In fact, there were many school students at The Octagon who are no doubt reading the play in their English lessons for their GCSE examination. However, David Thacker’s production is even more thrilling and gripping for those who do not know what happens once the Inspector calls.

A must-watch both for those new to the play and those familiar with the play.

Words: Sadia Habib.
Photos: Ian Tilton.

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