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The Inquiry ( Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: The Inquiry

Society: Chichester Festival Theatre (professional)

Venue: Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre. Oaklands Park, Chichester PO19 6AP

Credits: By Harry Davies.

The Inquiry

4 stars

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Whenever there’s the national crisis, the government of the day calls for an independent public enquiry: Chilcot, Levenson, Covid. We’re all used the concept. Although they take years they are meant to be fully impartial and a force for the good  – except that nobody is legally bound by the findings and a process known as “Maxwellisation” means that anyone adversely criticised in an enquiry is now often, and controversially, shown the report in advance and given time to respond before it goes public.

That’s the starting point for Harry Davies’s first play. He’s an investigative journalist on The Guardian who originally trained and worked as an actor so he knows both his subject and his craft. The result is intelligently riveting.

Hundreds of people have died because of water pollution. The water company responsible is squirming, unsuprisingly. There are hints of pay-offs, vested interests etc. So of course a public enquiry is underway chaired by Lady Justice Deborah Wingate (Deborah Findlay). The Rt. Hon. Arthur Gill MP (John Hefferman) who is Minister for Justice is concerned both in, and about, the outcome. There are leaks. No one is clean. I wonder whether Davies considered titling his play Quid Pro Quo?

Findlay is outstanding as Deborah Wingate. She has all the right clipped gravitas shot through with plenty of human observation in private. Then eventually, she crumbles (no spoilers) and it’s spellbinding. Hefferman gives us a pretty plausible camp, self interested minister and Malcolm Sinclair shows us just what an outstanding actor he is as Lord Patrick Thorncliffe KC, a schoolfriend of Gill’s, with his icy RP, use of “Darling” and Machiavellian, face-saving plotting. I last saw him playing Eisenhower in David Haig’s play Pressure and he is anything but typecast.

The strong cast of seven is well directed by Joanna Bowman who makes imaginative use of the Minerva’s horseshoe playing space – often placing physical distance between characters to stress their positions within the action. It sits, moreover, very neatly on Max Jones’ set which uses lots of House of Lords red chairs, wooden panelling and a long table so that we never forget where we are. And the moment when it opens to reveal Wingate and her friend Jonathan Hayden KC (Nicholas Rowe – good)  sharing a bottle of wine in her very flowery Suffolk garden is nicely done.

The Inquiry is a refreshingly – and enjoyably – grown up play, unsullied by fancy music or special effects. Its power lies entirely in its words and you need to listen – as suggested by the very word “audience”. Obviously, it’s also bravely topical. I noticed a child of about nine in the audience at the matinee I attended, however, and couldn’t help wondering what he made of it. It would be too esoteric for most children.


First published by Sardines

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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