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On Thursday night I was at the Old Vic watching Tom Morris and the Handspring Puppet Company put to use all the substantial theatre space and mechanical expertise at their disposal.  On Friday, I was a few floors down in Clifton Hill House watching Three Horses Performing Arts put to use one dining table, six actors and a large dressing-up box.  The latter, whilst not having the same box-office draw or long run scheduled, was what Bertie Wooster might call A Jolly Good Show.

It had its occasional fluffed line and a set wallpapered with the remnants of a laminating machine, but it was nonetheless a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment.  Staged in the theatre of Clifton Hill House, a University of Bristol Hall of Residence, the performance had the feeling of being someone’s good idea for alternative post-6pm entertainment to drinking.  Since it drew in a sizable crowd on a Friday night, the production was obviously successful in communicating this idea and it would be nice to see other performances in the future.

The cast embraced this dialogue-heavy play with palpable enthusiasm and warmth.  Joy Waldron, acting the part of Sheila Birling, improved substantially throughout the evening, hitting her best whilst remonstrating with her Lady Bracknell-esque mother, Sybil Birling (played by Morgane Singh).  However, although all members of the cast were competent, the production was really carried by the turgid intonations of Ronan Davis playing the Inspector.  Satisfyingly physically diminutive when placed next to, in particular, Tom Gidman as Arthur Birling, Davis buoyed up the inspector’s impenetrable inquisition with a little edge of humour – this character, of course, knows better than any other just how annoying he is being.

As with other texts such as Of Mice and Men and Educating Rita, An Inspector Calls is somewhat tainted by its association with the national curriculum.  My dear sister, still damaged from her overexposure to Priestley’s play during secondary school, recently re-christened it Inspector Twat and I fear she cannot have been the only one.  From the programme notes, it appears producer Lizzi Mills got far more from the text than my sister did, reading it as potentially questioning of our own existence. “Are we,” She asks “willfully ignorant of the lives, hopes and dreams of those with whom we share a city?”

It is always interesting to see what other people make of the same text, especially those which have been consigned by many to Key Stage 5.  Mills has produced a production that contributes to resuscitating this well-known play and, whilst doing so, helped provide a nice evening’s entertainment.  Well done, Jeeves!

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