Theatre Review: An Inspector Calls @ the Novello Theatre

By Zoe Craig Last edited 112 months ago
Theatre Review: An Inspector Calls @ the Novello Theatre


Stephen Daldry's (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader) multi-award-winning production of An Inspector Calls is back in the West End. And when we say awards, we mean awards: it's won more than any other theatre production.

Twenty years (and two West End runs, six national tours and a trip to Australia later) after the original was first staged, this show is once again directed by Daldry. Just as in the later 1990s, the audience continues to be packed with teenagers who are studying the text. And, of course, if you're a regular theatregoer, the chances are you're among the tens of thousands of people who've already seen the show.

You lucky things.

And if this is the case, you can stop reading this now. You've already seen it, you've studied it, you can make your minds up as to why it's back, its continued relevance for today, or even hear Daldry tell you himself (how very 2009). And you can decide whether or not you want to pay to see it again.

We want to appeal to those of you who, like us last night, have never seen or read the play. (We'd deliberately avoided finding out more about it to go with open minds.) People who, like us, have no preconceptions about the show unfolding on stage. Those of you who might be a bit turned off going to see another big West End song-and-dance number based on a back-catalogue, or yet another play-based-on-a-film with a distracting celebrity in it.

An Inspector Calls contains none of these things. On one level, it's a fairly straightforward play. One evening in 1912, an affluent Midlands family, the Birlings, are celebrating their daughter's engagement when a mysterious police inspector arrives. As he quizzes them about the sacking, pregnancy and suicide of a local factory worker-turned-shop girl, the "nice, well-behaved" family gradually falls apart as various revelations about their involvement with the girl come to the surface.

But An Inspector Calls is so much more than that. Zipping along at 1 hour 45 (no interval), this show nods to The Exorcist, debates capitalism, swings on Aristotle's beard, and explains why some girls love to hate shopping. We're reluctant to tell you more so, like us, you can enjoy the twists and turns of the plot without prior knowledge of the play.

If you haven't been to the theatre for ages, we recommend you see this. Yes, the start is a little slow. Yes, some of the music is a little over-dramatic. And yes, some of the acting, pitched, we're told "between film noir and horror movie" sometimes feels overdone, particularly if you're more into Mad Men than Les Mis.

But if you're looking for a visually compelling evening with a stunning script, wonderful acting, and above all, something that'll make you think, see this.

And be ready for the moment after you've been thinking, when this play seems to remove your brain clean from you head, shake it and replace it at a different angle. It's great.

Last Updated 25 September 2009