An(other) Inspector Calls

May 23 2024 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆     Relevant

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 22 – Sat 25 May 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

An(other) Inspector Calls from Edinburgh People’s Theatre at the Church Hill is a knowing tribute to one of the classics of 20th century drama. It does not always forge its own identity convincingly, but has much to recommend it.

In Andy Moseley’s play, set during the early days of lockdown in 2020, the Gower family are gathered at their country home in the Highlands to celebrate daughter Jennifer’s engagement. The party is cut short when a police inspector arrives, investigating the sudden death of a young woman who is connected to all of the family in different ways…

Ellie Marie Duncan, Christian Grant, James Cumming and Pat Hymers. Pic Graham Bell

If that set-up sounds familiar (not to mention the title) then that is intentional, as this is nothing less than a contemporary rewrite of the events of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. First performed in 1945 and set in 1912, that play – subtle, sinister and beautifully constructed – has become a staple both of drama societies and exam syllabuses.

In the interim, it has survived having a bomb put under it by Stephen Daldry’s National Theatre production (complete with Ian MacNeil’s celebrated set on stilts). Whatever your views of how well that still-touring version serves the play, it certainly showed that it is as painfully relevant as ever in its exploration of politics, gender and social responsibility.

Moseley’s answer to Priestley seeks to make it even more up-to-date. The new characters and their associations with the dead woman (here renamed Malenka) have been brought into the 21st century. If it does not quite all ring true, it is at least always the product of careful consideration, and some of it comes off very well indeed.


For example, making Malenka a nurse from Dominica means that attitudes to immigration are very much part of the discussion, which reveals how much has changed on the surface in the last 70 years, but how little underlying attitudes have altered.

Pat Hymers, as Sir James Gowers, the cost-cutting CEO of an NHS trust, is painfully convincing in both his false bonhomie and his self-justifying bluster. Helen E Nix is wonderfully imperious as Lady Hilary, special advisor to the Home Office.

James Cumming, Christian Grant, Ellie Marie Duncan and Helen E Nix. Pic: Graham Bell

Their children present a problem to an updater, as it is difficult to imagine even the most sheltered modern youngsters being as unworldly as Priestley’s characters. Nevertheless, Ellie Marie Duncan (Jennifer) and Christian Grant (Harry) are convincingly human and suitably unthinkingly callous.

Jennifer’s fiancé here is Stephen, the heir to a vast US pharmaceutical concern whose upcoming UK arm Sir James has his beady eye on. There is something frighteningly plausible about James Cumming’s characterisation, with an outward sheen of charm masking a fatal self-absorption.

studiedly cynical shrug

The character of the Inspector is always going to be the most problematic. The otherworldly figure of Priestley’s original, seemingly bringing divine justice or a message from the future, is here replaced by a far more prosaic character. Inspector Goole’s call to arms was inspired by the same opinions that brought in the Attlee government and the NHS; Here, DI Gould’s closing words are not quite the modern, studiedly cynical shrug of ‘it is what it is’ but they certainly approach it. This is all the more disappointing considering the earlier attacks on the others’ behaviour.

Ellie Marie Duncan, Christian Grant, Ellen McFadzen and Pat Hymers. Pic: Graham Bell

So it is hardly surprising that Ellen McFadzen struggles to inhabit the character completely, and first-night nerves did not help with this. However, there is a steely focus to the characterisation that makes it believable that the other characters would go along with the ‘investigation’.

In front of a beautifully sturdy set (designed by Richard Spiers), Helen Hammond directs with intelligence and considerable pace. The lighting of Nigel Jarvis adds atmosphere, although the changes can be a shade abrupt.

thoroughly arresting

The real problem is that the structure constantly reminds us of the original, and it is always going to suffer by comparison. Taking the characters out of their home and putting them in the Highlands makes for several problems, notably in the last section; the setting during lockdown is also problematic. Knowing what we now do about the behaviour of the Cabinet at the time does add a certain something, but otherwise it is underused as a device.

In fact, the opening – before the Inspector’s arrival – is in many ways the most convincing section. Free from being tied to an existing structure, the dialogue and characterisation are thoroughly arresting. Throughout, the sections that stray furthest from the inspiration are always the most modern and most involving, in a play that does go on a little too long and does tend to repeat itself in places.

Ellie Marie Duncan, Ellen McFadzen and Helen E Nix. Pic Graham Bell

We are constantly reminded of how stupendously well put together the original is, with its drip-feed of information, its foreshadowing and call-backs, and not least how Priestley manages the entrances and exits of characters. Here, it seems artificial, to the extent that both Columbo and Death in Paradise are specifically evoked.

Those are certainly among the most formulaic murder mysteries, but Columbo may well be the best ever example of the genre, while Paradise is always ridiculously involving. This is because they combine extreme care in characterisation with never-ending ingenuity, and inviting comparison is always going to be risky.


However, there are many similarities with Columbo, where famously, the murderer is always identified right at the start. Here, anyone who knows the original play can tell exactly what is going to happen, and the interest is in seeing how it plays out. This is done with considerable skill by Moseley, Hammond and a committed cast.

Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 30 Morningside Rd, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 22 – Saturday 25 May 2024
Wed-Fri at 7.30 pm; Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

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Helen E Nix, James Cumming, Pat Hymers and Ellen McFadzen. Pic: Graham Bell


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