Sunday, 14 June 2009

An Inspector Calls

You know that feeling: the one where you've spent weeks working yourself up about an event - Christmas, say, or your birthday party, or the first date with the boy of your dreams - you've been waiting for ages, perhaps even months, or years for this very special, particular event, and yet you know, deep down, that it can never live up to your expectations, and you're a little worried that come the day it's just going to be too disappointing and that it's all going to end in tears?

I've read An Inspector Calls a dozen times, taught it four or five, and watched with longing the Channel 4 Schools documentary that featured snippets of film of Stephen Daldry's iconic 90s production, lamenting I would never see it. Then I learned that there was a new revival tour. And that it was coming to town. I ordered tickets, months in advance, to avoid the disappointment of a sell-out. And last night, I finally did.

And you know what? It was even better than I'd hoped. I thought I was innoculated against Inspector Calls: certainly enough exposure that I shoud have been. And yet it hit me like a tonne of bricks. It's simply brilliant.

This is the production which has a whole house on stage. On stilts. In the middle of the first scene the house opens up to reveal the Birling family, and gradually as the Inspector questions them, they move down, out of the house onto the stage, coming down to equality, and then eventually destroyed, they crawl in the gutter as the house comes crashing down above them - quite literally, they must go through hundreds and thousands of plates.

There were elements I wasn't sure about - the Inspector's sing-song intonation, for example, with its odd stresses of volume in places, was a little unsettling at first, until I realised that it was designed to do so, and later saw the poetry of his speeches brought out by it.

I sat enthralled, spellbound by something I already know back to front and inside out. My first reaction on leaving the theatre? I wanted to go see it all over again. Unfortunately the national tour has only a week to go, and that in Leicester, but there will be a West End production in September, at the Novello, and if I can scrape together the cash, I think I might try and go. If you can, you should too.

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