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Posted by : TimothyRamsden on Oct 11, 2013 - 10:35 AM Archive

by J B Priestley.

Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 5 October 2013.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

Time and the Birlings have a respectable outing.

Director David Thacker devotes this Octagon autumn to two major dramas showing a family splitting apart, written in the 1940s and looking back to 1912.

An Inspector Calls probably ends its links there with Eugene O’Neill’s study of an American theatre family in Long Day’s Journey into Night, though by casting the same quartet of actors in the family roles of each play, he’ll surely pick-up any further resonances.

J B Priestley, often photographed in profile smoking a pipe, managed to mix philosophical speculation with everyday common sense. Inspector came several years after his famous 1940 wireless ‘Postscripts’ in which his educated Yorkshire tones delivered a weekly morale boost rooted in English people’s tolerance and reason. And, through the war years he worked on ideas for post-war society; summed-up in the Inspector’s parting speech in this play.

Goole doesn’t have the final words. Priestley allows characters to heed or ignore his warning before the final blow; the choice experience offers characters in the major Time Plays of the 1930s.

It would be simplistic hindsight, were it not for the writer’s intensity about his First World War experiences and his vivid memories of pre-1914 Bradford. This is a play of the industrial belt, not high society. Money is made, not inherited and Thacker’s production shows this well enough. There’s no revelation here, but a decent realistic production – from its Russian premiere to Stephen Daldry’s famous 1989 production, and Mary Papadima’s current Keswick revival, the play’s often been produced non-realistically.

Thacker show, as did Bernard Miles in his fine 1973 Mermaid Theatre revival, that it works under the most detailed realistic scrutiny. The Octagon’s stage, when surrounded by the audience, as here, becomes a dissecting area, though David Prosho’s Inspector seems inflexible, the lecturing-hectoring manner lessening his mystery.

The rest do well enough, with Margot Leicester outstanding, giving a graciousness and sympathy to the character who learns least, every gesture adding complexity – an arm dismissing some point, fists tightening as Mrs Birling first feels her certainty threatened. Like Anton Chekhov’s Mme Ranevskaya, she’s foolish and she’s wrong, but she inspires sympathy and affection.

Edna: Jessica Barlow.
Eric Birling: Mawgan Gyles.
Gerald Croft: Kieran Hill.
Sheila Birling: Rosie Jones.
Sybil Birling: Margot Leicester.
Inspector Goole: David Prosho.
Arthur Birling: Brian Protheroe.

Director: David Thacker.
Designer/Costume: Ruari Murchison.
Lighting: Wayne Dowdeswell.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Movement/Associate Director: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant director: Amy Liptrott.
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