Review: "An Inspector Calls" at The Wallis

(Photo: Mark Douet)

(Photo: Mark Douet)

  • Jill Weinlein, Chief Los Angeles Critic

The entertaining J.B. Priestley whodunit historical thriller “An Inspector Calls” enlightens  Beverly Hills audiences thanks to Paul Crewes, the Artistic Director at The Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts. He invited director Stephen Daldry and his touring production to perform for an exclusive West Coast engagement through February 10, 2019.

The star of the show is inquisitive Inspector Goole, brilliantly acted by Liam Brennan. Standing on the creatively designed set by Ian MacNeil, the Inspector pays an unannounced visit to the wealthy Birling family. This three-story home rises above a bombed hole in the middle of the cobblestone street. It’s not to scale, and the tiny door forces the actors to bend down to squeeze through, while the richly appointed dining room is barely large enough for the actors to maneuver around. Other war era hints include the faded red UK telephone booth displaying an array of broken glass windows, and old fashioned 1940 style radio.

This meddling Inspector shatters the family’s peaceful and celebratory dinner party while investigating the death of a young woman’s suicide. Soon each family member discovers that they have had a past connection with this girl. These pompous snobs describe her as “lively country bread type of girl” and having ”more spirit than other girls.” Each member of the family feels somewhat responsible for her death, and some discover empathy for casting her aside while she was alive. The Inspector has to ask questions, and his startling revelations shake the very foundation of the house and the lives of the people he interrogates.

What intensifies the suspense of each act is the music by Stephen Warbeck. The eerie violin and piano pieces send a cautionary chill up one's spine. Smoke and low lighting also add an air of mystery.

Even though Jeff Harmer (Arthur Birling), Andrew Macklin (Gerald Croft), and Hamish Riddle (Eric Birling) are exceptional actors, the female roles are more vibrant and more interesting to watch.

The audience observes Lianne Harvey’s (Sheila Birling) transformation as a privileged young woman celebrating her engagement to Gerald Croft, into a probing fiancée filled with insight, doubt, and remorse.

The beautiful Christine Kavanagh metamorphosis as the arrogant, Queen-like and self-important Sybil Birling, spins into a lifeless woman lying in a fetal position on the dirty street. Caroline McCall has an impressive wardrobe, wig, gloves, and boots team to dress each character authentically, and Kavanagh’s stunning sparkling scarlet red floor length gown is the most memorable.

My favorite actress was Diana Payne-Myers, playing Edna the family’s servant. Although she doesn’t recite words, her actions and mannerisms steal the show at times. This graceful 91 years old actress moves around the set as someone 40 years younger, tending to the family’s needs, rolling out a rug, and fetching a chair.

Plunging into despair, the house falls forward, and sparks fly. The family china slides off the lace tablecloth and cracks into pieces. When the dust settles, the men question if the Inspector is an imposter and if the girl’s death is real. After making a phone call, their conscience is cleared and soon they begin to question themselves and each other's moral character. The ending will leave you satisfied.

One of the most memorable lines Priestley wrote in the play “We don't live alone. We are members of one society. We are responsible for each other.” These words ring even truer today.

The play runs 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. Tuesday, January 22 to Sunday, February 10, 2019. Weekdays, 7:30 pm; Saturdays, 2 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sundays, 2 pm and 7 pm.

Tickets, $35 to $105, are on sale now and, available at TheWallis.org/Inspector. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills. To purchase tickets and for more information, please call 310-746-4000 or visit: TheWallis.org/Inspector.