So just who is the mysterious Inspector Goole who turns everyone’s lives upside down in J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls (Theatre Royal Brighton, Nov 1-5)?
“He is a voice of warning,” says Tom Mannion, the latest actor to step into the shoes first filled by Ralph Richardson.
“He is the moral conscience.”
When Inspector Goole arrives unexpectedly at the prosperous Birling family home, their peaceful dinner party is shattered by his investigations into the death of a young woman. His startling revelations shake the foundations of their lives and challenge them all to examine their consciences - and us ours too, Tom says.
“He doesn’t fit into their world” says Tom who points out Priestley’s boldness in so clearly declaring, just after World War Two, that socialism was the right way ahead. Goole becomes its mouthpiece.
“It’s unashamedly from that standpoint. He almost steps out of the action and talks directly to us in 2011.
“I almost don’t approach him as a person. I approach him more as a director. Inspector Goole is the director of the piece. He comes out and comments on the play. He is almost conducting the play.
“The characters have to deal with the information that he gives them about each of them. They have to take responsibility for themselves.”
Tom is delighted at the effect the play has on its audiences, many of them dominated by GCSE students studying the play. It’s great to watch the audience’s view of the various characters change.
And yes, it’s a play - and indeed a production - able to cope with the chat, the rustling of sweets and the texting which school audiences can bring.
“It’s big enough and bold enough to manage!”
The first-ever Goole was Richardson, and Tom is delighted to have met him at the National once: “He didn’t have the ego of Olivier or Gielgud. He was a more modest man. He was more a gentleman, and I think it was his great warmth which made him such a great actor.”