An Inspector Calls
Before Oscar glory reached British director Stephen Daldry, he won plaudits at the English National Theatre in 1992 with a powerful re-imagining of JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. The production won four Tony and three Olivier awards, and propelled Daldry towards a successful career in the cinema (he now has three Best Director Academy Award nominations under his belt for Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader). Now the production that made his name is heading north of the border again.
Written in 1945 as a propaganda piece for the Labour Party, Priestley’s exploration of the Birling family and their involvement in the suicide of a local girl in 1912 offers an image of a pre-war British society in which individuals have failed to realise their moral obligations to one another. Over 60 years later, Daldry’s reawakening of Priestley’s classic remains so powerful that Louis Hilyer, an original cast member, has been tempted back to play the eponymous officer of the law. For him, Priestley’s moral message has just as much relevance now as ever. ‘The play has been completely blown into another orbit while preserving what the original actually meant: that we’re all just one society,’ Hilyer says. ‘It’s fascinating that in 1992 when I was first in it, Margaret Thatcher had just left office and people used to cheer when the Inspector gave his message at the end. It’s kind of weird doing it now when, yet again, the Inspector’s message – that we’re all responsible for each other – seems to have a relevance.’
Hilyer is eager to see how the recession-struck public will respond to Priestley’s overarching moral ethos. ‘Usually you see a piece of theatre and you think it was great or awful but this play has such a huge message, one hopes people will think about it. [But] I don’t know whether anyone believes in society anymore – I don’t even know whether I do sometimes.’
Yet optimism eventually shines through. ‘Everything is crumbling now of the old order; maybe a new order is about to emerge where we are a bit more caring about each other.’
It’s a sentiment of which Priestley would surely have approved.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 24–Sat 28 Feb