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December 21, 2018 | Theatre,

The Marvelous Set of Inspector Calls

There is no doubt that An Inspector Calls is an important and prolific play, made only more prominent by Stephen Daldry’s revival in the 1990s. In this version, Daldry masterfully blended the two eras of the play: the 1945 post-war era, when the play was written, and the early 1900s in which the play is set. Daldry manifests this in the way the characters–especially Inspector Goole–interact with each other and observe their surroundings, the wardrobes and, of course, the set. Daldry’s production of An Inspector Calls utilizes one of the most famous sets in contemporary theater. Designed by Ian MacNeil, the set features an Edwardian-style house that is precariously balanced on stilts. This house exists among rubble, against an otherwise bleak backdrop, reminiscent of a post-Blitz London. Boston audiences will have the opportunity to see this world-renowned set on stage at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, when Daldry’s production of An Inspector Calls lands at ArtsEmerson MAR 14-24, 2019.

Photograph from the 1992 production of An Inspector Calls directed by Stephen Daldry – The British Library

As the audience takes their seats, they’re presented with an ornate theatre space, but when the curtains rise, the rain-soaked British landscape and 1912 Birling residence is revealed. In a conversation with Iain Gillie, the producer of this revival of An Inspector Calls, Gillie noted that the rain was so successful that for a couple of years after the initial production, “[they] received calls from designers and production managers from around the world asking how [they] did it.” The ingenuity behind the set is owed to the production designer, Ian MacNeil, who received numerous awards and nominations, including the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design in 1994, for his contributions to the show.

Meeting notes about the set and staging of An Inspector Calls at the National Theatre, 1992 – The British Library

What is perhaps most impressive about this production is that although Daldry’s revival has been performed for over two-decades, the set and physical production elements are more or less unchanged. The Edwardian house on stilts is amazingly the very one built in 1992, although it has received extensive refurbishment and the hydraulics (which allow the house to move and tip on stage) have naturally been replaced a handful of times. Critics around the globe have applauded the set of An Inspector Calls, calling it a “deft act of engineering” (Peter Marks, Washington Post) and a “vivid and expressionistic element of meta-theatre” (Lyn Gardner, The Guardian). The set of the show has also been contributed with “providing the visual centerpiece” of the production, allowing the theme of the show to be fully realized (Brian Logan, The Guardian).

Load-in for the house at Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Hall for An Inspector Calls (Photo courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company)

Between the production design, the costuming and unique thematic elements introduced by Daldry, McNeil and the entire production team, it makes sense as to why the revival of An Inspector Calls is hailed as the theatrical event of its generation. This production has won more awards than any other production in history, and has been seen on Broadway, the West End and even in Australia and Japan. Be sure to not miss this stunning performance of An Inspector Calls, complete with the original set, this upcoming spring at the historic Cutler Majestic Theatre at ArtsEmerson, MAR 14 – 24.

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