BATS bring preachy Priestley to Queens' Fitzpatrick Hall

Richard Power Sayeed 11 November 2007

J. B. Priestley’s most famous play – an unsubtly political drawing-room drama – is not the most enticing dramatic prospect. A family sit down to dinner. A stranger arrives, and secrets are revealed. It’s difficult to do much with a play like this, especially given Priestley’s simple characterisation, but injections of ambiguity by a solid cast pulled it off.

Emily-Jane Swanson, as ‘Sheila’, has an awful part; plump with repetitive lines articulating just what Priestley appears to wants the audience to think. Impressively, she managed most with conviction. A wider range of emotions would have been preferable but the fault lay, at least partially, with an unvaried script.

Swanson’s chemistry with Patrick Walshe McBride (‘Sheila’s’ brother, ‘Eric’) was sweet and natural. Walshe McBride’s young and petulant ‘Eric’ was generally effective, but while his agitated physicality had a realism to it, on stage it was too much.

Ade O’Brien, as patriarch ‘Arthur’, could also have allowed himself a broader emotional register before the interval including greater anger especially. His exhilaration in Act III was a fantastic sight though, and he brought a remarkable sensitivity and intelligence to the vicious ‘Arthur’, underplaying arrogance and emphasising his occasional warmth.

‘The Inspector’ is a difficult part to balance, especially given the play’s final revelation. Edward Rowett’s pleasingly and quietly unrelenting performance was most effective during his moments of greatest passion. He could seem a little too at ease, however; his pedantry and politicking could have been more severe.

Peter Wasson as ‘Gerald’, and Tempe Nell, a delightfully haughty ‘Sybil’, presented the fullest emotional development during their interrogations by the ‘Inspector’: ‘Sybil’s’ brief realization of her guilt was one of the night’s highlights, and ‘Gerald’s’ confession was well-observed. However, both slipped out of character too easily when silent, leading to weaker physical performances.

Though they never dragged, the first two acts lacked sustained tension, so that pace failed to build sufficiently before the dramatic closing act. This convincing and effective explosion of recrimination would have made more sense if it had been a little less sudden. Although cheesy, the denouement did caused a sustained shiver down my spine. This was an ensemble piece where actors never fought for attention, though the chemistry between the two couples was weak.

Katherine Upton’s An Inspector Calls deserves much larger audiences than its current occupation of Queens’ Fitzpatrick Hall may afford it: its admittedly a mediocre play, but done very well.

Richard Power Sayeed