An Inspector Calls review

An Inspector Calls , The Dukes, Lancaster

What excuse can there be for another run of An Inspector Calls, JB Priestley's classic and enduring play, the scourge of GCSE and A-Level students the length and breadth of Britain?

Clearly staff at The Dukes think it worthwhile and, judging by ticket sales (the theatre has added extra dates due to popular demand), they're not wrong either.

The set-up here is simple - this is back-to-basics theatre for The Dukes. The celebrations of an upper-middle class family of a daughter's engagement to a respected businessman are rudely interrupted when our titular inspector calls. He's there regarding the apparent suicide of a young working class woman which teases dark secrets from all the family members.

It is, of course, all about class, and so the challenge is for the actors to make blameless, stiff-upper-lipped and posh characters appealing - an unenviable task.

For Robert Whelan and Christine Mackie - father and mother Arthur and Sybil Birling - the attempt is not entirely successful. Whelan resorts to playing Arthur as bellowing Brian Blessed might while Mackie struggles with ice queen Sybil.

Elsewhere, there is more joy, although Priestley can be blamed for Miriam Hughes' lack of impact with the characterless newly-engaged Sheila Birling. But Christian McKay is brilliantly calculated as the judgmental inspector, dominating every scene, while Peter Prentice ably brings humility as Gerald Croft. And Samuel Collings turns in an impressive performance as son Eric Birling, the family's moral core.

Sixty years on, An Inspector Calls is as engrossing as ever and, if you can cope with the uneven performances here, there's much to enjoy in The Dukes' production of Priestley's classic melodrama.

*An Inspector Calls runs until November 10.