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


These notes are from a meeting held by the team involved in Stephen Daldry’s acclaimed 1992 production of An Inspector Calls at the National Theatre. They provide an insight into the process of developing the bold set, designed by Ian MacNeil, and the dynamic staging which made the play radically different from earlier productions.

The notes briefly outline the historical context of the play and the fact that the Edwardian period and 1944/45 are on the stage at the same time. This split time frame is indicated by the use of a ‘full Edwardian curtain’ and false proscenium arch,[1] in front of which is action involving a ‘chorus of 20 plus children’ who represent the post-1945 world.

This vivid staging is ‘heavily underscored musically’ to stunning dramatic effect. Daldry and MacNeil’s dramatic influences are alluded to with mention of the play’s first production in Moscow (in 1945) and the Symbolist movement. Priestley always intended his play to be staged in a way which would make the most of its symbolism, and he loved Alexander Tairov’s bold and minimal set that was used at the play’s Moscow premiere in 1945.

The Birlings’ house is described in the notes as ‘a dolls house..not full size’, so that the characters have to ‘stoop to get through doors’, and the furniture is ‘specially made and scaled down .. also made to break specifically’. The effect created when the house tipped forward and collapsed was made all the more dramatic by the sound of falling crockery which, according to the notes, ‘must smash’. The spectacular nature of the staging was further intensified with the use of heavy rain, a complex special effect which posed its own challenges: ‘There has to be no sense of the grid ie [sic] centre stalls shouldn’t see rain bars …’.

Following the play’s success at the National Theatre in 1992, Daldry’s production transferred to the Aldwych Theatre in 1993. For more than two decades the production played at number of West End theatres – and toured the world – making it the longest running revival of a play in history. In November 2016, Daldry’s production returned again to London’s West End.

[1] The proscenium arch was common in traditional theatres built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Often very elaborate in gold and red, it acts like a picture frame through which the action of the play can be seen.

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Meeting notes about the set and staging of An Inspector Calls at the National Theatre, 1992
Manuscript / Ephemera
National Theatre, Stephen Daldry
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