Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

An Inspector Calls
U.S. Tour
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Liam Brennan and Cast
Photo by Mark Douet
English playwright J.B. Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls in 1945 as a straightforward drawing-room drama on the surface, a morality play with metaphysical elements underneath, but director Stephen Daldry's 1992 rethinking of the play—on tour and currently at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall in Washington—is a thrilling expressionistic masterpiece.

Priestley, a World War I veteran writing as World War II was winding down, created a parable about the need for all people, regardless of situation or social class (or religion, or race...), to understand that they must work for and with each other or they will destroy each other. A single upper-class family, visited by a police inspector investigating the suicide of a young working-class woman, serves as a microcosm of society.

Daldry's reimagining, embodied as much through Ian MacNeil's scenic and costume designs and Stephen Warbeck's insinuating score as through the performances, brings the story out of its original setting of 1912: the elegant home of the Birling family stands on pillars, hovering like a ship amid a sea of blasted rubble downstage. At times, ragged children and other silent onlookers witness the scene.

Arthur Birling (Jeff Harmer) owns a factory in a northern English town and his wife Sybil (Christine Kavanagh) is active in philanthropic causes. On this night, the family is celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila (Lianne Harvey) to Gerald Croft (Andrew Macklin), son of another prominent family, while trying to ignore son Eric's (Hamish Riddle) drunkenness and cynicism. Everything is as it should be, at least until Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan) arrives.

Goole, unflappable and (as several characters say) not behaving like a police officer, is looking at the "chain of events" that led the despondent woman to kill herself. At first the Birlings deny any contact with her, but Goole knows more than he's telling.

While Daldry has worked with his cast to create memorable characterizations, Harvey dominates as the one character who comes to see her complicity in real time instead of rationalizing it away. (MacNeil's costumes have a symbolic edge here: Harvey in a white gown that becomes gradually soiled, Kavanagh implacable in a burgundy dress covered with jewels.)

The play runs one hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission, and it's riveting right up to the climactic coup de théâtre and beyond.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
The National Theatre of Great Britain Landmark Production of
An Inspector Calls
November 20 - December 23, 2018
By J.B. Priestley
Inspector Goole: Liam Brennan
Mrs. Birling: Christine Kavanagh
Mr. Birling: Jeff Harmer
Gerald Croft: Andrew Macklin
Sheila Birling: Lianne Harvey
Eric Birling: Hamish Riddle
Edna: Diana Payne-Myers
Ensemble: Chris Barritt, Adam Collier, Chloe Orrock, Beth Tuckey
Younger Boy (alternating): David G. Curry III, Michael Neyland
Girl (alternating): Elle Vanzego, Sophie Wood
Older Boy (alternating): Holden DuBois, Aksel Moeller
Supernumeraries: Craig Allen, Madalaina D'Angelo, Acacia Danielson, Richard Fiske, William Goblirsch, Rosemary Regan
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or
For more information on the tour, visit