George Rowlands plays Eric Birling in the 30th Anniversary UK and Ireland Tour of Stephen Daldry’s seminal production of JB Priestley’s classic thrillerAn Inspector Calls.
In the 30-years since its first performance at the National Theatre in 1992, Stephen Daldry’s production of An Inspector Calls has won a total of 19 major awards, including four Tony Awards and three Olivier Awards, and has played to more than 5 million theatregoers worldwide. An Inspector Calls is the most internationally-lauded production in the National Theatre’s history.
The production opens at the New Wimbledon Theatre on Friday 9 September before embarking on tour, full tour listings can be found at: www.aninspectorcalls.com
You’re playing Eric Birling in the 30th Anniversary tour of An Inspector Calls, how would you describe the play to anyone who hasn’t seen it?
Well, it’s exciting, it’s dark, it’s smoky, it’s thrilling but it’s also very thought provoking and also very different. I think that’s one of the reasons why this production has been popular for 30 years – it’s a very fresh and original take on Priestley’s original play. In my opinion it’s the version of the play that people really should see.
What do you think it is about Stephen Daldry’s production of the classic thriller that keeps audiences coming back?
Well, the tale is age old, by definition. If you sit down and look at the plot it’s a plot about a girl who has been dismissed due to class, gender and mistreated as a product of greed and lust. That just doesn’t get old – we are facing those problems as much today as we were thirty years ago, and as when Priestley first wrote the play and probably will be facing them in thirty years time.
It’s a classic thematic tale, we are always going to have people who are being mistreated by society and our societal structure and by politics. I know every time the show has come back it has been relevant for a slightly different reason, whether through the lens of refugees, the #MeToo movement or strike action, among many other things. I think people will really resonate with it now.
Tell us a little about your character, and what you love about the role?
I love all the characters I have played! Eric, however, is a very troubled character! To say that I love him is probably a slight exaggeration. He has very troubled and has made some horrible decisions. However, what I do like about him is that I love seeing the façade. Eric sees through the pompous way the family works and the family dynamic. He’s clever and a little bit tipsy, which means he will say everything he thinks, which is quite fun to play! In terms of what he’s like as a character – he likes a drink, he’s done some things he shouldn’t have, and he has to come to terms with that.
Both the book and your character are studied for GCSE’s, so it’s a popular production for students, how well do you think this play supports audiences who are also studying?
I think GCSEs, and any exam, are all about perspective. It’s about trying to get your head around where a writer is coming from. I think watching this play is going to give you an extraordinary amount of perspective for your GCSEs.
Stephen Daldry’s production really honours Priestley’s original work. Priestley was inspired by the Moscow Arts Theatre, which is an experimental theatre, and so when it came to England and became very sedentary it lost some of the point. Whereas this production brings it back to the edgy, slightly experimental approach. You’ll empathise with the characters in a way that it’s hard to when you’re just reading it. It’s also good fun, so studying doesn’t have to be boring, it can be fun!
You’ve recently had some great roles at The Unicorn and Hope Theatre, what are you looking forward to most about touring larger theatres across the country?
I am looking forward to travelling the UK. I’ve never really had the time to do it, but I’m really looking forward to being able to see all these places. I’m a bit of a romantic, and a fan of Jack Kerouac and On The Road so I’ve always wanted to tour, and see parts of the UK that I may never have seen if it wasn’t for this opportunity. On top of that it’s always lovely to be able to bring theatre to people and show the audiences what I think it’s a really exciting and engaging piece of work.
What would you say to encourage anyone to come along and see the 30th Anniversary tour?
The play is not what you expect it to be. The cast have brought it to life in a really moving, engaging and sometimes frightening way. You’re not going to want to miss that!