Facing demons you didn’t know you had
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Facing demons you didn’t know you had

MADC tackles arrogance, power and privilege in Priestley classic at BlueBox.

THEATRE
An Inspector Calls
MADC
Blue Box

Putting up a classic play is always a gamble because of the expectations that naturally accompany it. Or so I thought. MADC’s latest production of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls at BlueBox was not only a faithful representation of early 20th century upper class manners – with the characters looking down out of their ivory towers onto the rest of society that supports them; but also a well-directed piece of solid, thought-provoking theatre. 

 

What disappointed me was not the production, but the audience’s reaction to it – mistaking a play with a strong moral, ethical and social message for a comedic whodunit. Clearly Maltese literary and arts education still has much ground to cover.

The cast of privileged, wealthy mine-owners are brought down to earth by an enigmatic police in­spector who lifts a mirror up to their sins, foibles and excesses.

John Marinelli’s Inspector Goole, a clever play on ‘ghoul’, calls late one evening at the Birling residence – mine owners whose daughter Shelia (Roberta Cefai) has just got engaged to Gerald Croft (Gianni Selvaggi), the son of a rival mine owner. Shelia’s father, Arthur (Edward Thorpe) has just started giving Gerald and his son Eric (Edward Caruana Galizia) a lecture on the benefits of capitalism and the best way to suppress workers’ demands, when Inspector Goole appears. His revelation that a young woman has died, is met by Birling, at first with consternation as to why they should be considered to be involved; but when Goole gradually builds a story about the young woman’s fate, and reveals information to each member of the party, that they are somehow involved in the chain of events that led to her death, the Birlings and Croft become agitated and upset.

Of course, each character’s distress is motivated by entirely different factors. The younger set, Shelia, Eric and Gerald are ashamed of their involvement, their lax moral attitudes and arrogance, which add significantly to the fatal end result. On the other hand, Arthur Berling and his wife Sybil (Isabel Warrington) try at every turn to justify their actions and come across as callous and uncaring, desperately clutching at straws in an attempt to maintain their distorted moral high ground, which is fast crumbling, especially thanks to their daughter’s rational clarity. 

Director Michael Mangion made a bold move in casting a comic actress like Warrington in a much more serious role, and although she executed it relatively convincingly, a hint of the comedic could still be detected – which can be problematic in a play which requires a more sober treatment.

I enjoyed Roberta Cefai’s ma­ture take on Shelia, who recognises the error of her ways and is one of the most insightful characters, showing remorse. Cefai was at times pitchy, but her phrasing and tone were just right. 

Caruana Galizia plays her bro­ther, who understands, too late, that the con­sequences of his reckless ac­tions have a lasting and damaging impact.

Priestley’s strong social message lies mostly in the subtleties of the conversations

His was a performance which matched Cefai’s in poise and sensitivity, along with Selvaggi’s Gerald, whose interpretation was solid, if a tad too calm.

Thorpe’s portrayal of Arthur was genuine and strong as a nouveau riche mine owner whose position in the world is determined by financial efficiency and the ap­pearance of good-standing.

The production focused strong­ly on the manner in which Mari­nelli’s excellent Goole breaks down the way these people conduct their lives. The plot twist using a chronological loop at the end, is followed up by a dramatic screening of the miners’ plight and the post-war destruction that plagued the working classes. 

Priestley’s strong social message lies mostly in the subtleties of the conversations and in his depiction of the contrast between the haves and the have-nots, having the benefit of hindsight, with a play set in 1912, but written in 1945. Definitely a play to watch, which still has much to contribute to the debate on the social impact of capitalism.

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