AN INSPECTOR CALLS
Smoking Gun Collective, Jericho Arts Centre December 26 2016 - January 7 2017
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Liz Gloucester
I want to preface my highly critical review with the fact that this production is a must-see. I watched it through the eyes of one who wrote many essays on this very play at school and therefore have viciously honed expectations.
The lights come up abruptly on a dinner table strewn with dessert goblets and digestifs as the Birlings and their guest Gerald are in mid guffaw. This sets the bar very high for bold choices but is unfortunately then followed by a bit of a lull. I fear this is largely down to the cast choosing not to play the villain. I expected to be presented with a table of ludicrous sitting ducks ready for each pot shot to bring them crashing to the floor.
I wanted to see daughter Sheila Birling, played by Julie Lynn Mortensen in all her childlike and spoiled debutant array; a little version of her mother, in spite of herself. But she seemed too level headed and mature from the start which meant she didn't have very far to fall as a result of the Inspector's visit. Mr. Birling is a man I hope will never get his desired knighthood. Keith Martin Gordey's mammoth task of portraying the verbose patriarch is highly commendable but he was too likeable, almost reasonable. As an audience we don't necessarily need to hate the characters but we should be looking at them with the disdain and envy we have towards people who flaunt their fortune – the people we all secretly want to crash and burn.
A while ago I had to come to terms with the fact that Canadian's cannot really nail the British accent, there have been those that have come close but the 'dreadful hungarian' in me will always surface and put a pin in every mispronounced vowel until curtain down. I thought this cast's efforts on the whole were splendid –in particular that of Jordan Navratil who fooled me until I read the programme and whose largely understated and tender portrayal of Gerald Croft was extremely engaging.
On the subject of accents, and now being rather pernickety in finding ways to criticise this play I enjoyed so much, I would have liked to have seen Sarah Arnold 'posh hers up a bit'. Hints throughout the play indicate that Sybil Birling is of better stock than her husband; smugly wafting airs and graces around at the top of the show and reminding him that their little celebration is not an appropriate occasion to discuss business. Arnold's facial expression accomplished Mrs Birling fully; self-satisfied, pompous and then outraged by the inspector's impudence ranging from astute to buffoonish. In closing my eyes however, her voice cloaked her in a maid's bonnet: a little more Downstairs than Upstairs.
Where this production really excels is in it's negative space. An audience will come to the natural conclusion that the play is very wordy with barely any physical action required apart from the topping up of a brandy or port. For the layman this is an extended Christie denouement; all suspects are congregated in fine attire in the customary room awaiting sequential examination. This would be a highly accurate account of the text, however William B Davies and his cast have found the beauty elsewhere. My eyes often drifted from the speaker to the reactions of his peers; these were provided in droves by the cast in an exquisitely subtle manner.
Subtlety is often needed when playing drunk – a complicated and layered task for actors and frequently lauded as one of the hardest things to pull off. A successful performance requires not only the practice of controlling your body to reproduce a lack of control but also that of wearing a mask of sobriety. Chris Walters' performance of Eric Birling was outstanding, identifying clearly what we common-as -muck British folk lovingly refer to as an Etonian twat at the beginning of the play before spiralling into a devastating portrayal of a completely broken soul. Eric Birling felt like the only character completely undone by the events of the play. I wonder whether bad news had genuinely been slipped to him by a stage hand before his entrance at the end of Act Two – his face was so drained of colour. The Inspector at least left with one stuffed toy from the shooting arcade.
By Kelly Moncton
I walked into An Inspector Calls unaware of its historical significance, and only had a moment to glance at the program before the play started. At first, the writing seemed quite heavy-handed in its call for kindness, but as it developed, the script and actors displayed more nuance than I originally expected.
The simple elegance of the set and costumes conveyed the British setting in 1912 effectively, and the accents sounded clear and consistent to my North American ear. I wasn’t completely sold on director William B. Davis’ choice to include an exterior setting where we could see characters come and go from the house. Some of those moments felt like they added little, and slowed down the pace. On the other hand, Lesli Brownlee’s strong contrasting portrayals of a homeless woman and Edna, the maid, had an audience member near me confused as to who was playing each part.
The titular inspector calls on a family in the middle of a celebration, and tears apart their comfortable lives. Each family member has their turn in the hot seat, and their revelations had an excited patron gasping audibly on the night I watched. I enjoyed the performances of the son, daughter, and her fiance more than the parents and inspector. In all fairness, this preference may have been influenced by the fact that the younger characters are generally more self-aware and sympathetic. As the daughter, Julie Lynn Mortensen switched smoothly between heartfelt outbursts and bitter criticism. When Chris Walters, as wayward son Eric, reappeared later in the play, his raw emotions and intense energy were compelling. Jordan Navratil’s more complacent portrayal of fiance Gerald was sympathetic earlier in the play, but felt out of place when he brought in a new idea in the third act. Sarah Arnold, playing the mother, showed bursts of icy-cold confidence, but they transitioned abruptly to other moments of weakness. I also wanted more confidence and bluster from Keith Martin Gordey, as the pompous businessman father. He and John Prowse seemed to have occasional memory issues which slowed down the pace. As the Inspector, Prowse certainly felt like the outsider needed to stir up the complacent family, however the near-magic quality the other characters describe in him was lacking.
Despite a few quibbles, An Inspector Calls was a pleasure. Perhaps because of the time of the year, it felt like a less-familiar cousin to A Christmas Carol. Not only does this play serve as a wake up call to the privileged, it reminds the audience not to settle back into old habits after learning something about themselves. I would especially recommend this production to anybody working on their New Years’ resolutions!