Knock, Knock (Again)

You have another chance to pay a visit to “An Inspector Calls,” with the reopening last month at the Garrick of Stephen Daldrys now-legendary 1992 National Theatre production in a physical staging easily outclassing its previous, and cramped, 17-month West End stint a t the Aldwych.

To dispense with the quibbles: Susan Engel’s one-note Mrs. Birling never begins to match the unforgettable mixture of venality and coquetry captured by Rosemary Harris on Broadway. And Helen Schlesinger’s wide-eyed, breathy work as daughter Sheila suggests a Stepford child displaced to Yorkshire.

What remains of course, is a production provocatively alive to the unique properties of the theater that amplifies J.B. Priestley’s text without ever swamping it. (Priestley, I suspect, would have loved an aesthetic honoring – and then some – his own stage directions that the play’s environment not seem “cozy or homelike.”) Among a very good group of men, the acting standout is Nicholas Woodeson’s Inspector Goole, a scuttling goad to conscience who is as springy and fleet-of-foot as his London and New York predecessor Kenneth Cranham was rooted to the blasted landscape – “Better to ask for the Earth,” he snaps, turning to face the audience head-on, “than to take it.”

That an audience exists to face him back is clear from the production’s hefty &pound 150,000 ($235,000) advance, more than double the &pound 60,000 ($93,000) figure that the Aldwych run carried “most of the time,” says Andrew Empson, managing director of PW Prods. Empson anticipates recoupment of the &pound 160,000 ($250,000) staging “shortly after Christmas.”

“It’s just a cracking good show,” he says,”and everyone knows it.”

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