An Inspector Calls
By J B Priestley
York Theatre Royal, Fri 14 to Sat 22 September
Director Stephen Daldry
Designer Ian MacNeil
Lighting Designer Rick Fisher
Composer Stephen Warbeck
Associate Director Julian Webber
Producer PW Productions
Stephen Daldry’s production of J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls has been hailed at the ‘theatrical event of its generation’. Since its debut at the National Theatre in 1992 it has won 19 major awards, including three Olivier awards and four Tony awards, and has played to more than four million theatregoers worldwide.
What many don’t realise is that Daldry’s radical take on J B Priestley’s classic thriller began life in a production at York Theatre Royal in the autumn of 1989 – three years before its triumphant London opening.
Daldry, then a 28-year-old freelance director, was invited by Theatre Royal artistic director Derek Nicholls to stage Priestley’s repertory warhorse once more. Initially reluctant, he nevertheless answered Nicholls’ call and his production of An Inspector Calls opened on October 19, 1989 at the Theatre Royal.
The story finds the mysterious Inspector Goole calling unexpectedly one fateful night in 1912 at the house of prosperous industrialist Arthur Birling. The family’s peaceful family dinner party is shattered by his investigations into the death of a young factory girl Eva Smith.
Daldry’s research led him to draw inspiration from the first production in 1945 by Leningrad Company in Moscow. At the core of the play was Priestley’s search for a new society, a theme mined in productions in Russia and war-torn Germany.
At the time Daldry told the Yorkshire Evening Press that he felt there was a misconception about what Priestley was trying to do with the play. “He saw the play in symbolic as much as emotional terms, but the symbolic side has been negated since the 1940s,” he said
“We need to find the real play, to see the play as he intended it to be seen, which, as far as I know, has never been done in this country. Until now his work was lost in a drawing room thriller, but he was not really writing a thriller at all; that’s not the political driving force of the play. I hope people who have not seen the play will be shocked by its vitality and emotional virility.
“Priestley stood for Parliament on ‘an extremely left-wing ticket’. I think there is a need to rediscover Priestley as a radical experimentalist rather than an old warhorse.”
Without losing the thriller element he wanted to look at the play’s relevance to post-war Britain and a society divided by wealth and class, and the question of social responsibility.
“Basically the vision of society established in 1945 has lasted into the 1980s – the vision of collective responsibility. Now the last physical remnants are being destroyed, it is important we remind ourselves of that vision,” said Daldry.
Then in 1992 Daldry, together with designer Ian MacNeil and lighting designer Rick Fisher, revisited An Inspector Calls at the National Theatre in London. It has become one of the NT’s most successful productions. The latest UK tour opens in York, then takes in Cambridge, Wimbledon and Cheltenham before a US tour to Washington DC, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston.
Daldry went on to become world-renowned as one of the Britain’s leading theatre and film directors, receiving Academy Award nominations for his films The Reader, The Hours, Billy Elliot and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. West End theatre work includes David Hare’s Skylight, The Audience and Inheritance.His multi award-winning production of Billy Elliot the Musical ran for 11 years at Victoria Palace before touring the UK. He also produced and directed the Netflix television series The Crown.
Featuring Ian MacNeil’s ingenious designs, music by Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck (Shakespeare in Love) and atmospheric lighting by Rick Fisher, this landmark production is guaranteed to have old fans rushing back and new theatregoers being swept away into the mysterious world of Inspector Goole.