The wealthy Industrialist Arthur Birling and his family are celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila to rival industrialist Gerald Croft when Inspector Goole arrives to investigate the suicide of a young woman, Eva Smith, who worked in one of Arthur’s factories. Throughout the play each member of the family confesses to knowing the young woman and each is revealed as responsible in their own way for her downfall. When the Inspector leaves, the family become suspicious and Arthur calls the Chief Constable.
He confirms that there is no such person as Inspector Goole and a second phone call reveals that there has been no death by suicide at the hospital. The older Birlings’, relieved, celebrate but Sheila and Eric, her brother, both feel guilty and resolve to change their behaviour for the better. The phone rings. It is the police telling Arthur that a young woman has died on the way to hospital from drinking bleach and that they are on their way to interview him as she is an ex employee of his named Eva Smith!
Stephen Daldry originally created this production for the National Theatre way back in 1992 and it is now, unbelievably, on its 25th outing around the country. The play opened in front of the house tabs with a Second World War air raid siren sounding and a small boy exploring. My first assumption was that the play had been updated from its original 1912 setting, and this did turn out to be the case, however as the ladies dresses were still decidedly late Victorian. When the curtain went up, the impact of the production was immediate as it was absolutely pouring with real rain! However I wasn’t sure about the set.
The perspectives were a bit disconcerting which meant that when the actors came out onto the balcony they seemed much larger than life due to the reduced size set. The production also took place largely in the street which, for me, dissipated the claustrophobic effect of the play as each character revealed their involvement in Eva Smith’s downfall. That aside, there were some excellent performances, chief among them being Chloe Orrock who played Sheila.
Her transformation from spoilt rich girl to the remorse she felt when she realised the effect her behaviour had had upon the unfortunate Eva was very touching. I also liked the characters of Arthur Birling and Gerald Croft, played by Jeffrey Harmer and Simon Cotton respectively. Liam Brennan played Inspector Goole and he made a good job of it. I felt, however, that setting his entire part in the street made it much more difficult for him to create the underlying tension as he revealed what he knew about the family. There was no interval and I liked this even thought it was a long time to sit.
With no opportunity to lose concentration in the bar it made us feel as if we were part of the action! I did enjoy the evening but thinking back, I have been left with the impression that the actors made a really good job of the play in spite of the setting rather than because of it.
3 out of 5
Reveiwer: Julia Rufey