‘An Inspector Calls’ Brings Captivating Story to Shakespeare Theater Stage

Courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Full of drama, twists and astonishing revelations, one family’s celebratory dinner turns from a night of exuberance to one of chaos, fear and mistrust. J.B. Priestley’s 1945 thriller, “An Inspector Calls,” is brought to Chicago by the National Theatre of Great Britain for a limited time as part of an international tour. “An Inspector Calls” opened at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater Feb. 20. 

It’s 1912 and an upper-class family celebrates the engagement of their daughter, Sheila (Lianne Harvey), to a man, Gerald Croft (Andrew Macklin), who’s well-known in the community. But a festive night of drinks and joyful conversation soon turns dark when a mysterious police inspector investigating a young girl’s suicide pays the family a surprise visit. 

The guest calls himself Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan), saying he must question each member of the Birling family about Eva Smith, who died in the infirmary earlier that day after ingesting a strong disinfectant. Dark secrets are revealed, tensions grow and the family is shaken to its core. 

Entering the stage from the back of the theater through the aisles, Brennan takes charge of the scene with his strong, commanding character. He prods the Birling family with questions and establishes control with his tenacious personality by interacting with others and addressing the audience.

Harvey puts out one of the most impressive performances through Sheila, whose character development is unrivaled. Sheila starts out as a ditzy, rich girl who giggled at the sight of the inspector and the idea that her actions could affect others. As the play progresses, however, she becomes the family member who’s most reflective of all the destructive revelations that have come to light. From a family gathering for a seemingly innocent and carefree young couple, Sheila is left in utter shock about the people she thought she knew.

A notable part of this production was the intricate set designed by Ian MacNeil. The play opens to an eerie rainstorm on a cobblestone British street. At the center of the action is the stunning house of the Birling family, with additions of wall decor and china, indicating the family’s wealth. The house is elevated above stage level, representing the family’s place in the upper class. As the family’s secrets unfold, the set in turn, crumbles down too.

Director Stephen Daldry created a sensational production that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Daldry is known for producing Netflix’s “The Crown” and producing/directing multiple movies including “Hours,” “Billy Elliot” and “The Reader.” He’s been nominated for Academy, Golden Globe, Emmy, Tony and Olivier awards. 

Not only is “An Inspector Calls” an enthralling thriller, it has perfectly timed comedic moments. The old script still holds up today, exploring the conflicts of political power and the decline of character’s morality. The show is captivating and will leave audience members hanging on to every word. 

“An Inspector Calls” will be playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater through March 10. Tickets can be purchased on the theater’s website and discounted tickets for $20 are also available for students and young professionals between ages 18 and 35. 

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