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inspector calls talking to the family
Review in the Northumberland Gazette


Goole By name, ghoulish by nature – the mysterious Inspector and the dark secrets of a respectable middle class family he exposes have been entrancing and puzzling audiences for more than 60 years.

J.B. Priestly’s play, set in an Edwardian drawing room, was the latest production from Warkworth Drama Group, performed to packed houses in the village’s Memorial Hall on Thursday, Friday and Saturday last week.

Everything about this play – from the set to the acting of the cast – reflected the high standards demanded by the two directors, Marion Giles and Meg Dixon. This was a truly top-quality production worthy of any professional stage, and the cast seemed to have no problems getting to grips with what is sometimes an over-wordy script. J.B. Priestly, a committed socialist, wanted to make sure the message of the play was hammered home over and over again, especially in the exchanges between Mike Dixon’s Inspector, bristling with cold righteous anger, and Ralph Firth’s magnificent Arthur Birling. Ralph avoided the temptation to turn him into a comedy figure by over-playing the character’s self-satisfied pomposity. His subtle performance built to a powerfully disturbing crescendo in the second half as the Birling family’s comfortable world was ripped apart under the Inspector’s relentless questioning.

There was not a single weak link in this cast; Diana Webber, with her wonderfully expressive face, was superbly haughty as Mrs Birling, and it was especially pleasing to see the young talent in this production. Producer Meg Dixon had to make a special plea in the Gazette for young men to take part, and she was very lucky to find Kevin McEwan, who played prosperous young man-about-town Gerald to perfection, and Paul Regan, with his Byronic good looks, who was one hundred per cent convincing as the drink-fuddled idler, Eric Birling. He too avoided the temptation to over-play the part, capturing exactly the right dissolute body language and manner. A special mention must go to the enchantingly pretty Rosie Sales who gave a mesmerising performance as Sheila. Her cut-glass diction and sensitive portrayal would suggest that Warkworth has a young star in the making here.

Even Anne Evans’ very small role as the family maid brought just the right period feel to the piece. And of course she, the humble servant, is the only one in the house to emerge without a stain on her character.

The beautifully put-together set was more than worthy of the production. The attention to detail was obvious, from Marjorie Firth’s Mayoral portrait of Mr Birling over the fireplace, to set man John Lilley’s specially made front door – and it was a cleverly macabre touch to make the house number 13! Opinions varied about the device of having the Inspector come and go through the audience. Personally I thought this worked well, conveying the idea that perhaps the Inspector represents the voice of us, the community, and our collective consciousness.

All in all, a play that gave us food for thought, and another triumph for Warkworth Drama Group.


Article in the Northumberland Gazette 4th May 2006