The stage set design of this classic play by J.B Priestley is unsettling – but brilliant. If you’re expecting a classic Edwardian drawing room, you’ll be surprised. Instead, a mis-shapen house on stilts rises above a wet, dirty cobbled street below. Inside the house, we hear the Birlings self-importantly celebrate their fortunes. The house is almost comical, like a doll’s house; the characters have to duck to get out of the shrunken doors to exit. And already, we’re aware not is all at is seems.
The inspector – his feet firmly on the ground – draws the characters down into the dark, grim reality below – via a spiral staircase violently slammed into place. There – on the dirty cobbles, they are stripped of their self-delusions and invited to face the responsibilities of their actions.
Exploring the themes of social inequality and injustice, the play could be seen as just as relevant today as when it was written. I know it inside out (having had two sons study it at GCSE ;), but it’s always a pleasure to watch the ‘revelations’ unfold on stage; to see each character come to realise what their pompous, selfish actions have caused.
There’s no interval – so the tension mounting just keeps on running; which I think is effective. The musical score is stirring, and the acting is suitably dramatic. Liam Brennan is a stern, impatient Inspector Goole, and Christine Kavanagh, Jeffrey Harmer ( Sybil and Arthur Birling) and Alasdair Buchan (Gerald Croft) strut and storm the stage with perfect pomposity. Chloe Orrock plays Sheila perfectly – morphing from pampered to penitent, while Ryan Saunders brings some humour to Eric Birling’s character and Emma Cater as Edna moves around the stage with drudgery, humour and impatience.
The performance held a packed audience (even the many schoolchildren amongst it) enthralled throughout. This play is a classic that never tires.
It’s on until Saturday 14th March – more information at newtheatrecardff.co.uk
Photos by Tristram Kenton