This is the original poster from the world premiere of An Inspector Calls at the Leningrad Comedy Theatre, Moscow, in 1945. The theatre company chose an alternative title for the play, which translates as ‘You Will Not Forget’. This alludes to one of the Inspector’s final speeches to the Birling family in which he repeatedly warns them not to forget their role in Eva Smith’s death.

The poster’s striking artwork gives us an insight into how the theatre company may have interpreted the play. Showing a haunting and delicate image of Eva Smith/Daisy Renton against a backdrop of an industrial town, the poster appears to place the wronged young woman at the centre of the story. In contrast, publicity material from later productions has focussed on the image of the mysterious Inspector, which has since become iconic.

Who presented An Inspector Calls in Russia, and why?

J B Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls ‘at top speed’ in a week during the autumn of 1944. Although he offered it to several London theatres, none were available.

Instead, he sent a copy of the script to Moscow. There, two famous companies, Tairov’s Kamerny Theatre and the Leningrad Comedy Theatre, presented the play simultaneously and with immediate success. Priestley attended Tairov’s production, later commenting in a letter to theatre director, Michael MacOwen, that the theatrical atmosphere was ‘… radiant with professional knowledge, warmth and good fellowship and enthusiasm; a mighty long way from Shaftesbury Avenue’.[1]

An Inspector Calls premiered in London in 1946.

Why was An Inspector Calls so popular in Russia?

As commentator John Braine points out, the Russians took theatre very seriously and considered writers to be ‘the engineers of the soul, the shapers of the future’. With the Inspector’s message that ‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other’, it is perhaps no surprise that the play was a hit in communist Russia.[2]

It was a bold move on Priestley’s part to have his first post-war play staged in communist Russia. He was seen as a threat to the British Establishment because of his socialist beliefs. During the war he had gained widespread popularity as presenter of his Postscript broadcasts on BBC radio, in which he called for a fairer society, one in which people think less of property and power and more in terms of community and the welfare of society. Priestley’s broadcasts were viewed as too left-wing by some politicians, and it has been suggested that the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had them taken off-air for this reason. But this has never been proved. However, in 2014, secret files released by MI5 revealed that Priestley, along with other prominent figures of the time, was spied on during and after the war.

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

[2] John Braine, J B Priestley (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978), p. 114.