Next month Avenue Q moves to Wyndham's, but right now that theatre's occupied by a play that's been resident in even more London theatres than the pupppets over the last 18 years, although not consecutively. Stephen Daldry's production of An Inspector Calls returned to London for a limited run at the Novello last autumn; it had to make way for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof but was doing so well it got an extra couple of months at Wyndham's (having in the past been at the Lyttelton, Olivier, Noël Coward and Garrick that I know of.) Daldry's production aimed (successfully) to change the common perception of the play as a cheap standby for local theatre companies with cash problems, due to the fact that it only has 7 characters and one set, so is cheap to stage. It does this by setting the main events in 1912 as JB Priestley intended, but giving them a framing device set in 1945, the year it was written; Nicholas Woodeson's somewhat supernatural titular character belongs to this framework. Ian MacNeil's set also provides a lot of spectacle, and the production takes on a horror-movie tone, including stealing an iconic image from The Exorcist.
So the GILT cheap tickets offer means I finally got round to seeing this theatrical juggernaut, and although sets have got more hi-tech since 1992 this one stands up pretty well, as does the rest of the production. Priestley's story is about taking responsibility, as all the members of a wealthy industrialist's family are made to confront the small or large ways they all contributed to a young girl's suicide. It's all held together by Woodeson's Inspector, looking tiny compared to the other actors but running rings around their characters, making them confess to things before they realise what they're doing. But the rest of the cast are strong too, especially as Woodeson is gone for the final 15 minutes, in which Priestley picks apart the 90 minutes that came before. As ever a good indicator of success for me is that there was a high number of young teenagers in the audience (according to the programme, the production has always owed much of its success to school parties) who seemed pretty quiet for the whole running time.
An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley is booking until the 13th of March at Wyndham's Theatre.