STEPHEN Daldry’s radical take on Yorkshireman J B Priestley’s thriller An Inspector Calls will return next month to York, the city where he first staged his award-garlanded production.
His premiere came at the Theatre Royal in the autumn of 1989, three years before its triumphant London opening at the National Theatre. Nineteen major awards and five million theatregoers worldwide later, Inspector Goole will be arriving unexpectedly at the prosperous Birling family home once more, this time on tour at the Grand Opera House from February 7 to 11.
Written at the end of the Second World War and set before the First, Priestley’s time play opens with the Birlings’ peaceful dinner party being shattered by the inspector’s call and subsequent investigations into the death of a young woman.
Goole’s startling revelations will shake the very foundations of their lives and challenge us all to examine our consciences as Daldry highlights the enduring relevance of Priestley’s dramatisation of the dangers of casual capitalism’s cruelty, complacency and hypocrisy.
Liam Brennan will reprise his role as Inspector Goole from past tours, joined by Christine Kavanagh as Mrs Birling, Jeffrey Harmer as Mr Birling, Simon Cotton as Gerald Croft, Evlyne Oyedokun as Sheila Birling, George Rowlands as Eric Birling and Frances Campbell as Edna.
Here, 2022-2023 tour cast member George Rowlands addresses questions not asked by Inspector Goole but by an investigative journalist.
Did you study An Inspector Calls at school?
“I did read it at school, although I can’t really remember much of it. But I did always like it. I always think at school when you sit down and analyse every single word, it can make you go a bit crazy, and I always thought it ruined books and plays.”
Is your appreciation of the play different as an adult?
“Now that I’m an adult, or more importantly now that I’m an actor, I definitely have more of an appreciation for it. This production of An Inspector Calls is now 30 years old and yet still as popular as ever.”
What makes the play so timeless and this production so engaging?
“At the end of the day, at its centre it’s a play about somebody in distress, and that doesn’t get old, does it? I think at different points in time, when we’ve put it on over the last 30 years, it’s been relevant. And this time around I think it’s more relevant than ever because of what’s going on in terms of the strike action and housing crisis.”
Provide three facts about your character, Eric Birling…
“Eric is well educated because he’s been sent to public school. He enjoys a drink, probably a little bit too much. The third fact is that Eric really wants to be respected by his dad. Unfortunately, the combination of those three facts results in some pretty catastrophic things.”
What made you want to be an actor?
“I think it beat doing any other boring job. I did find out quite early on in Year 6, for the-end-of-school plays we did The Wizard Of Oz, and I completely rewrote the script because I thought it was rubbish and obviously made my parts the best.
“I like storytelling and I like the creative and artistic aspect of it. With this production, it has enabled that part of acting, and it’s been a really good creative process.”
What’s the best part of going on tour with a show?
“Being able to play in these amazing theatres – I’m really excited to do that – and bringing the story to people.”
What are the essentials for your dressing room?
“ I’m sharing a room with Simon [Cotton], who’s playing Gerald. I don’t know… I think a bottle of water goes a long way. A bottle of water and some Vaseline is not a terrible idea – for the lips, obviously. I get chapped lips.”
What’s the most challenging part of being a performer?
“With other jobs, you can put a direct amount of work in, you can work more, you can do this, this and this, and your results will be better because of it. Like, if you’re studying for an exam, the more you revise, the better the result.
“But with acting it doesn’t work like that because being good is so subjective. There’s no grade. I think that’s quite hard. Putting lots of work in and not knowing really how it will go.”
If you could swap roles for a performance, would you?
“If I could pick any character, I’d probably pick Edna. I would love to play that role. If you haven’t seen this production, there’s a special thing that Edna is part of – a little bit of magic. She’s amazing.
“My second choice would be Mrs Birling. I really like Mrs Birling; she’s got such sass and doesn’t have the insecurities that Eric is stuck with.”
The National Theatre and PW Productions present An Inspector Calls at Grand Opera House, York, from February 7 to 11, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/York.