BY SOME distance the most financially successful revival in British theatre history, this resurrection of Stephen Daldry’s 1992 adaptation of JB Priestley’s drama seems increasingly out of time, a curio consolidating its dusty position amidst the theatrical furniture of the nation.
In designer Ian MacNeil’s wonderful, purgatorial dollhouse of a set, the irresistible Inspector Goole, played with Scottish bombast and simmering fury by Tom Mannion, is an indefatigable spectre of moral righteousness. Imposing himself upon the 1912 snobbery of the nouveau-riche Birlings, who are each partly responsible for the suicide of a working-class girl, even as huddled masses from 1945 pass silent judgment upon them, Goole affords the piece an epic, mythical quality that sits oddly with Daldry’s critique of post-Thatcherite capitalism, even in this time of austerity.
As such, the inspector’s final speech comes across as grandstanding, a simplistic plea for human compassion and advocacy of society that sweeps away every degree of responsibility and weighing of guilt in favour of a heartfelt, unambiguous morality. While it’s difficult to disagree with such sentiments, it’s also hard to feel moved by their platitudinous excess.
Karen Archer and Geoff Leesley are decent value as the unfeeling Birling parents, more concerned about social status. But it’s Henry Gilbert as their dissolute son and Kelly Hotten as their conscience-stricken daughter who afford them some redeeming humanity, even if it’s rather drowned out by the play’s pyrotechnic spectacle, shouty sermonising and dominating score.