Description

These are photographs of the set used for Stephen Daldry’s acclaimed 1992 production of An Inspector Calls at the National Theatre. Designer Ian MacNeil’s bold non-naturalistic set and dynamic staging made the play radically different from earlier, more traditional productions.

As the play began, the safety curtain rose to reveal a false proscenium arch with heavy red curtains. In front of the false arch, a boy kick-started an old-fashioned radio, evoking the era of post-war theatre when the play was first staged.[1]

Audiences were stunned as the red curtains rose to reveal the Birlings’ Edwardian home teetering on stilts, appearing like a doll’s house amid the wide cobbled landscape that was lit by a solitary street lamp. As the Birlings were drawn down into the street one-by-one by the Inspector to be questioned, the hinged walls of the house opened to reveal the cloistered opulence of their world.

As the house finally tipped forward and shattered all over the stage, the Birlings and Gerald Croft crawled among the rubble of their collapsed house and the Inspector delivered his famous message: ‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are all responsible for each other’.

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 Moscow premiere in 1945. He called the play’s London premiere in 1946, with its more naturalistic set depicting an Edwardian drawing room, ‘less brilliant and experimental’.[2]

Following the play’s landmark revival 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.

[2] J B Priestley, An Inspector Calls (London: Heinemann, 1947), p. vi.

Transcript