After more than a decade has passed I have finally seen the legendary Stephen Daldry production of J.B. Priestley's play. Thrilling, exciting, mesmerising and ultimately theatrical, this is a production that surpasses anything that cinema could never hope to emulate.
The reason I have never seen the production before was that whenever the production toured I would always miss it or it would miss me - I recall that it went to my hometown for the first time in 1999, a week after I moved to London! But such is life and all good things ...
It is, of course, a given that any touring version will be a slightly reduced production where all the elements that make up the design are, usually, on a smaller stage and here that was the case. I recall seeing original production shots many years ago and even the original set model (as part of the touring 'Make Space' exhibition) where the stage (the National Theatre!) seemed vast and the design elements of telephone box, cyclorama etc. were more spread apart than here. Here it appeared that some of these pieces were repositioned although none of this detracted from the production itself which was still dominated by the three story, doll-house-like, Birling family home; a physical manifestation of the wealth and security of the people who reside within. Ian MacNeils' designs and Rick Fisher's lighting compliment each other whilst the music by Stephen Warbeck sets up atmosphere, mood, and tension well (though I felt, at times, it bordered on excessive).
From its framing device of the Second World War (a nod to the period in which the play was written) Daldry's conception grips you and the interweaving of the observers of the 1940s with the events of the play which occur in 1912 was such that one never questions the different time periods living side by side. The play is a moral one and here we become part of those who observe and ultimately judge the actions of the people onstage. The 1940s 'supernumeries' (as listed in the programme) invite us to ask of ourselves whether the time period we live in or the class we may consider ourselves to be are reason enough to abandon those who are in need, to be selective in our morality and actions.
I am glad I managed to catch this wonderfully theatrical piece and hope to do so again when next it tours.