Review: An Inspector Calls, Playhouse

“You haven’t finished asking questions – have you?”

More than a little debt owed to the Guardian’s Pass Notes as much as any exam paper I ever sat….

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Booking until 4th February
Photo: Mark Douet

Mock GSCE Paper, for Clowns
Thursday 10th November
Time allowed – 1 hour 50 minutes (no interval)

Question 1 – Have you seen An Inspector Calls before?
Yes, seven years ago. It was my first time and you can read my review here, along with my embryonic writing style
Question 2 – Hasn’t everyone seen this play by now?
Since opening at the National in 1992, it has had 3 West End runs and 6 major national tours, not to mention a Tony-winning trip to Broadway too. So yes, they probably have. But JB Priestley’s play remains a stalwart on English GCSE syllabus and so there’s always fresh eyes coming anew to the drama. (Fun fact – Diana Payne-Myers (Edna) has been in two of those West End runs and two of the UK tours, plus one in Australia too. I reckon it’s because she knows her lines so well.)
Question 3 – Can you tell the production is nearly 25 years old?
If we’re being completely honest, the iconic house of Ian MacNeil’s set design is beginning to look a little creaky and in these days of jaw-dropping effects from Wild to Harry Potter, its once-climactic moment sputters by comparison. But it’s a mark of Stephen Daldry’s direction that the play itself doesn’t feel at all fusty – its heightened theatricality remains startling with all its inventiveness and meta- moments.
Question 4 – Isn’t Stephen Daldry busy with The Crown?
Series 2 is already in production, but he has got an associate director onboard with him here – Julian Webber – I’m reckoning he’s been busy here.
Question 5 – Is it any good though?
 A play can’t linger around stages for so long without being any cop (ahem Thriller…) but An Inspector Calls really has earned the right to carry the label ‘classic thriller’ and delivers consistently throughout its interval-free running time. Plotting that still twists and turns satisfyingly, music (Stephen Warbeck) sound (Sebastian Frost) and light (Rick Fisher) that enhances the mood perfectly, and a set of performances that crackle with barely-repressed emotion.
Question 6 – Did the butler do it?
 He might have done, though that might be a different play. (I had actually forgotten how this played out, misremembering it halfway through didn’t help either!)
Question 7 i – Please use a gif to demonstrate how freaking fierce Barbara Marten is as Sybil Birling
Question 7 ii – And another
Question 7 iii – And one more
Question 8 – How many people does it take to do the costumes for this play?
More than you’d think. 8 people are named, including the 2 people who do alterations, which is nice as you don’t often see them mentioned in programmes.
Question 9 – What mark did you get for your English Lit GSCE?
An A. Though we were the first year to have A*s, so naturally I was disappointed. (Yes, I was ‘that’ boy at high school).
Question 10 – Can you shoehorn in a late reference to the US election and Donald Trump somehow, for relevance?
Into a (kind of) review about a play that preaches compassion, that highlights the disparity between the younger and older generations, that determinedly stands up for the rights of the poor against the bullish arrogance of the upper classes? I doubt it.
See, I told you!




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