Inspector's back. Watching Pushkin Theatre's new performance

November 11, 2019

The premiere of 'An Inspector Calls' play took place at the Pushkin Theatre. Written by the English playwright J.B. Priestley, the performance was already shown on this stage some 70 years ago, produced by the director and founder of the Chamber Theatre Alexander Tairov. The new production is directed by Oleg Pyshnenko. Read about the play and both performances in article.

'An Inspector Calls'

1912,  London. Arthur Birling, the owner of a huge factory, congratulates his daughter Sheila and her fiancé Gerald Croft on their engagement. Birling's wife and their son have joined the celebration, too. Suddenly in the midst of the party, inspector Gooll, who investigates the mysterious suicide of a poor unemployed girl Eva Smith, drops in. This evening drastically changes the lives of all the participants.

John Boynton Priestley wrote 'An Inspector Calls' in 1945, at the peak of his popularity. His studying at Cambridge was interrupted by the World War l (Priestley went to the front right from a lecture hall). He was engaged in some literary and critic works, but the first success came with the novel 'The Good Companions' (1929). Priestley's plays ranked among the works of his countrymen Somerset Maugham and Bernard Shaw, gradually replacing them from the posters of the largest theatres in Great Britain.

The idea of the play about an inspector who spoiled the festive evening of a noble wealthy family with a biased interrogation came to the writer at the end of the theatrical season. It took only one week to put all the twists and turns of the captivating plot on paper. British theatres replied to the playwright who had sent them a manuscript that they regretfully had already scheduled their next season, and offered to wait.

But Priestley had fans not only in his native country, but in the distant USSR, too. By that time, he was renowned not only among Soviet theatre staff and critics, but among ordinary citizens, too: Soviet Russia enjoyed its own Priestley, with his plays published in major Russian newspapers. Having learned that the famous author had written a new play, Alexander Tairov did not hesitate to include the new production in the immediate plans of the Moscow Chamber Theatre. In the United Kingdom it was staged only a year later.

Today, the play, which premiered in Moscow, is part of the British school curriculum. The 'Inspector' was filmed for several times. The first film based on the play was shot in the UK in 1954. This play is still very popular in the UK: its 70th anniversary celebrated in 2015 was honoured by the release of a TV film starring David Thewlis and Sophie Rundle.

Russian audience knows it thanks to the film by Alexander Proshkin 'Inspector Gooll' (1979) with Juozas Budraitis, Yelena Proklova and Vladimir Zeldin starring.

Non-English premiere

The play 'He Is Here' based on this play was staged on 6 July 1945 in the Alexander Tairov's Chamber Theatre (later Pushkin Theatre).  This sold-out premiere was sensational, as there were not only John Boynton Priestley himself with his wife Jane among the spectators, but also the British Ambassador, Deputy Foreign Minister of the USSR Maxim Litvinov and foreign journalists.

Priestley was much impressed by Pavel Gaideburov, Augusta Miklashevskaya, Sergei Tsenin and Georgy Yanikovsky performing. He said, the production was a success and did not disappoint him at all. The audience loved this performance, too. Nevertheless, it disappeared from the theatre's repertoire, as in 1946 there was a Resolution of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) prohibiting production of foreign plays in the Soviet theatres. Soon, Tairov's Chamber Theatre closed. In 1950, the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre opened in the building previously occupied by the Chamber Theatre.

'Inspector' today

Actor and director Oleg Pyshnenko offered to get the play back in the theatre's repertoire.  The idea was supported by Art Director Yevgeny Pisarev.

'I barely knew that play. But this is a bright, modern, poignant and very good piece. Later, as we began studying the history of its creation, I learned that it premiered in the Chamber Theatre even earlier than in the United Kingdom. I really didn't know that,' says Yevgeny Pisarev.

'Inspector Is Here' is the Moscow debut of actor Oleg Pyshnenko as a director. Before that, he collaborated as a director with the Tula Municipal Theatre, where he made productions based on the works of Chekhov, Gogol and other classics. Pushkin Theatre's audience saw him acting Vyshnevsky in plays 'Profitable Place', Dr. Bartolo in 'The Marriage of Figaro', Simeonov-Pischik in 'The Cherry Orchard' and others.

'A very close friend of mine advised me to read this play. It intrigued me and kindled my interest, I got really hooked. And that means that I have the emotional right to stage it', says Oleg Pyshnenko.

Before starting the work, he had not watched other 'Inspector' productions on principle: in his opinion, it would only spoil the right perception. There were no photos, theatre programs or other materials of the performance of 1945 left, so the production was made from scratch. The only thing a new play borrowed was the translation Tairov preferred, that sounds better than the modern ones.

The play is set within the home of the Birling family. Merited Artist of Russia Maxim Obrazkov worked on the scenery recreating a fancy interior of the early 20th century.  He collaborates with theatres in Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and other countries. In Moscow, performances with his scenery are staged at the Theatre of Nations, Vladimir Mayakovsky Theatre, Evgeny Vakhtangov Theatre, Et Cetera, Yermolova Theatre and others.

Initially, the play was to be staged on a small stage, at the theatre's branch in Sytinsky Pereulok. But Evgeny Pisarev saw a greater potential in it and decided that this play needed a big stage.

'First, the play has something that many modern authors just ignore. They write interesting texts, but forget about certain laws of drama, the development of characters. This skillful play boasts everything. Second, there are two intriguing different positions: should you help only yourself and your family or do you have to think about others, too? This play, under the guise of a detective, reveals some important human and social issues,' says the Theatre's Art Director.

Evgeny Pisarev, Art Director of the Pushkin Moscow Drama Theatre. Photo: Yuliya Ivanko

There are several line-ups. Grigory Siyatvinda, Vladimir Maizinger, Andrei Sukhov, Irina Byakova, Anna Karmakova, Yekaterina Rogachkova and others perform parts.

Next time, watch performance on 7 and 8 November.


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