There’s nothing like a grizzly murder plot to get thriller fans running to the theatre – and An Inspector Calls promises to do exactly that. Jo Caruana dares to find out more, in this interview with director Michael Mangion.
With the lively Christmas pantomime far behind them, the MADC – one of Malta’s oldest theatre companies – has sprung back into action for the launch of its spring season, with the presentation of J. B. Priestley’s classic play An Inspector Calls.
As one of the playwright’s best-known pieces, An Inspector Calls has been hailed as a classic of mid-20th century English theatre since its first performance in 1946 in the UK. In fact, it has epitomised classic ‘drawing room’ theatre and become a key part of the British school curriculum for its scathing criticism of the hypocrisies of Victorian and Edwardian English society.
Director Michael Mangion actually chose Priestley’s An Inspector Calls to direct almost two years ago, when he was discussing with Marylu Coppini – MADC’s artistic director – the possibility of putting on a thriller.
“It was my first choice because it is such a classic and important play,” he explains. “I had seen the UK National Theatre’s production of it, directed by Stephen Daldry, many years ago and it remains one of the best plays I have ever seen.”
The story itself is shrouded in mystery, largely because it’s difficult to describe the tale without giving away the plot. In a nutshell, it tells of an inspector who arrives in the house of an upper-middle- class family one evening to question them about their involvement in the death of a young woman. “However there are so many layers to the play and interesting journeys for all of the fascinating characters,” Mangion says. “It’s basically an examination of the class system and a statement about the injustice of inequality between the rich and the poor.”
It remains one of the best plays I have ever seen
Interestingly, while the play was actually written in 1945, it was set at a very specific time – a week before the Titanic set sail, in 1912. Thus, the MADC is being very loyal to the period in terms of design, costumes and mannerisms. “Despite this period specificity, what makes this play a classic is that it is still relevant today,” the director continues. “Thus, a modern audience – while appreciating it visually as a period costume drama – should still understand and relate to the playwright’s underlying message.”
Naturally, the talented cast that the MADC has put together is central to getting that message across. It includes Edward Thorpe as head-of-the-household Arthur Birling, Isabel Warrington as Sybil Birling, Roberta Cefai as Sheila Birling, Edward Caruana Galizia as Eric Birling, Gianni Selvaggi as Gerald Croft, Samantha Gauci as Edna and John Marinelli as Inspector Goole. Together, from this weekend they have taken to the stage at Blue Box in M Space.
Asked about his role, Marinelli says he has always been fond of thrillers, and remembers reading through this play around 10 years ago. “The mysteriousness of the Inspector Goole character is part of what makes it interesting to play the role, along with the interaction with the Birling family members and guest,” the actor says. “It calls into question who Goole is and where he came from, and his identity remains ambiguous throughout the play. It’s up to the audience to come to their own interpretation!”
This mysterious personality is just one of the things the whole cast love about the play, and the director hopes the audience will be drawn into each individual character’s journey.
“Although there isn’t much action in the play it is gripping from the start,” Mangion adds. “It has got twists and turns that aren’t predictable at all, and should keep the audience thrilled (hence it being called a ‘thriller’) right up to the last second.”
MADC’s production of J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls is running at Blue Box Theatre – M Space, Msida – opposite Junior College (ex-Polytechnic) today and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with all performances starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at €15 and €20 and are available online at www.bluebox.com.mt or by calling the ticket hotline on +356 7979 3737. It is recommended that audience members are aged 12 or above.
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