Date: May 23 2012
It's 1912. A wealthy manufacturer is throwing a celebratory family dinner: his daughter is getting engaged to a bastion of society. And then comes an unexpected visitor who will change their lives forever.
Bill Kolentsis is directing J.B. Priestley's suspense drama An Inspector Calls for Tempo Theatre - the first time the company has produced the play.
Although it was first staged in 1945 and is set exactly 100 years ago, An Inspector Calls is still relevant, Kolentsis says.
''It's about social responsibility and social consciousness and caring for others, the values of a society that cares for its citizens.''
But it's not a plodding, earnest tract. Kolentsis says, ''I was keen to do it because of its dramatic structure, the dramatic devices it uses and the irony in the dialogue … And there's a bit of a twist in the end.''
In the play, Arthur and Sybil Birling (played by Kim Wilson and Margi Sainsbury) are the parents of Sheila (Clare Rankine) - who is to be engaged to Gerald Croft (Paul Jackson) - and Eric (Sean Flynn). The ostensibly respectable Birlings are very happy: social status will be added to wealth with the alliance. Then into the party comes a mysterious intruder (Mark Bunnett).
''He's a stern, steely police inspector whose line of questioning is subtly different to most policemen,'' Kolentsis says. ''They're different questions that might surprise some people.''
They certainly surprise the Birlings and Gerald. The line of inquiry focuses on the death of a young woman named Eva Smith. All of those present, it turns out, knew her in one way or another, and all of them seem to have been involved in what happened to her - in an accumulation of responsibility, even if nothing illegal has been done. Their weaknesses, hypocrisies and secrets emerge under the inspector's relentless probing.
''There's a lot of emotion and the inspector character needs to be a bit more subtle so people might pick up clues in the questions he asks, the things he does,'' Kolentsis says.
But the play is not just about one family but a critique of an entire a social system and its attitudes. It's set - not coincidentally - in the same year the Titanic sank, a disaster in which class very much played a part in who lived and who died: because there were not enough lifeboats for everyone on board, preference was given to the first-class passengers. The tragedy is credited by some with helping to break down some of the rigid class structures that had carried over from Victorian England, though Priestley is making the point that prejudice and a lack of responsibility are continuing concerns.
As far as the production is concerned, ''The look is fairly simple, with the dining table as the centrepiece,'' Kolentsis says.
The cast includes a mixture of Tempo Theatre stalwarts, such as Wilson, and newcomers. Bunnett, in his first show for the company, is far from inexperienced.
''He has quite a resum
■ An Inspector Calls is on at theatre@bcc (formerly Belconnen Theatre at Belconnen Community Centre) on May 25, 26, 30 and 31 and June 1 and 2 at 7.30pm, with 2pm matinees on May 26 and June 2 and a 4pm performance on May 27. Tickets, $30/$25, from Canberra Ticketing on 6275 2700 or canberraticketing.com.au.
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