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Sunday, 10 May 2009

Theatre Review: An Inspector Calls at The Lowry

I must admit, I approached this with some trepidation, having studied the play at school when I was about 14 and suspecting that my tastes may have matured a little in the intervening years. Also, the charming man in the ticket office had warned us when we booked that the play is still on the English Lit syllabus and we could therefore expect the presence of a good number of school kids despite it being a Friday night.

Still, a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir in Lime beforehand, and I felt pretty much ready for anything. The Lowry was almost full, with just a few empty seats remaining in the terrifyingly high-up upper circle (try to avoid these seats - I saw the History Boys from somewhere near the back, and spent two hours straining to see and hear the action taking place on stage several miles away).

The play is set in 1912, and tells of the wealthy Birling family, who are having dinner to celebrate the engagement of their daughter to the son of a rival manufacturer. The family are overbearing and extremely pleased with themselves, until their smug world is shattered by the arrival of Inspecter Goole, who breaks the news of a suicide of a young woman whose life has touched each of theirs in some way.

Stephen Daltry's production of J.B. Priestley's play has won more awards than any other play, and it is easy to see why from this slick and professional performance. The cast is uniformly competent, with impressive turns from Louis Hilyer as the Inspector and Marianne Oldham as Sheila Birling, and Sandra Duncan suitably matriarchal in the comic role of Lady Birling.

The staging is also compelling, with moody lighting and clever use of the Birling's family home to represent the social standing of the family at different times in the play. The play has now moved on from the Lowry, but is certainly worth a look next time it comes round again; even the school kids enjoyed it, judging from the enthusiastic whooping at the end.

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