We Call On The Inspector Himself!

How does one go about playing the mysterious titular character in J.B. Priestley’s classic, AN INSPECTOR CALLS? Ghafir Akbar chats with us about his inspirations, his challenges, and what he hopes audiences will take away with them after the show.
Ghafir Akbar at the backstage

Tell us more about the character you play, Inspector Goole.

The Inspector shows up in the middle of a dinner party, and interrupts it, and starts questioning and unravelling the story of a young woman who recently passed away. What’s suspicious about this Inspector is that he knows a lot – he seems to be able to ask questions that are very personal to each of the party guests, and that takes the family by surprise. It’s a very juicy role to play – it’s really quite delicious to be interrogating this family as you see them start to panic, get excited, and question their own responsibility – are they related to this murder or not?

The Inspector is a famously tricky role to play. How do you approach this character?

There are many different ways you can play the Inspector. You can play him as very ominous, very mysterious. Initially, when I first approached the role, I thought that I could play him quite ambiguously. 

But what I’ve discovered is that it’s very important to me to make the Inspector human, for him to have a relationship to the society around him. One of the clues for me in taking this approach was to figure out why he is so interested in trying to figure out the death of this girl. This particular interrogation on this particular night is very important to him. It’s not just about finding out who’s guilty or who’s not guilty. It’s about finding out the truth, right here, right now.

I don’t want to say any more – why don’t you come and see for yourself what version of the Inspector we’re presenting in this production?

Dennis Sofian as Eric Ling, Serene Chen as Sybil Ling, Lim Kay Siu as Arthur Ling and Yap Yi Kai as Sheila Ling looking troubled with Ghafir Akbar as Inspector Goole standing in the middle of the family
An Inspector Calls (2023)

What’s it been like working on the show?

It has been a very fulfilling and satisfying process, not just in the past four weeks of working in the rehearsal room, but also, as we all know, the play was supposed to be staged in 2020 and we had something called COVID. Over the years, I’ve been spending time with the play, and with the character, and the themes of the play, while observing how the world has changed. I think we’ve all changed, really, and I think if we were to have done the play in 2020, as opposed to how you’ll be seeing and experiencing it in 2023, it will feel a little bit different.

Tell us your favourite thing about this production.

It’s a really fun cast! Some of the themes of An Inspector Calls can be quite tense, and I think we do a really good job at finding the lighter moments in the play. Everybody has been very open to explore, and to peel away the layers of each of their characters.

What has surprised you the most while working on An Inspector Calls?

The one thing that surprised me is how much the issues in the play are still relevant today. You would think that, after many years, after decades and decades of time have passed, that some of the issues that were big back in the day would be resolved now. But issues like gender, class and politics are still quite relevant today.

Did you face any challenges while working on An Inspector Calls?

Yes, of course – it wouldn’t be as fun without any challenges! One thing we had to work through carefully was the text of the play. J.B. Priestley wrote in a very stylised language for a very specific time, and it’s important for us as actors to figure out why he phrases certain things in certain ways, and then to figure out how to best present this for our Singaporean audiences.

An Inspector Calls is a classic play that has been studied in schools all over the world for generations. Is there anything you’d like to say to the many students who will be coming to see the show?

I think it’s great that we have students coming to see the play who have researched it and know the characters really well. I encourage them to come watch the show with an open mind. We all have our versions of the play, the Inspector and the family in our heads. But we hope students will stay open to other options, other opinions, other points of view, about how this play can be presented. You might discover then that the play has a bigger meaning, that there’s a deeper understanding that can be found, if you allow yourself to consider other interpretations of this play. So be ready for some new ideas, I’d say!

What do you hope audiences will take away from watching the show?

I think, if anything, the audience will be able to watch a well-made play in terms of structure, in terms of character, in terms of text. 

Over and above that, they’ll get to see a play that speaks to them about responsibility – what is our responsibility as members of society, for ourselves, for our society, and for our family? 

Sometimes, you know, when we go about our daily lives, we forget that the person who’s sitting next to you in the MRT could be going through something, which is maybe something you could help them with, or you might have an answer to. You never know what kind of kismet or relationship you might have with them. 

Whether we like it or not, we are all responsible for each other. Everything we do, everything we say, everything we think, has an impact on everybody around us.

You’ll also be returning to Wild Rice for HOTEL in June! How do you feel about that?

I’m very excited for HOTEL. It’s a show that’s very close to my heart and we’ve done it, of course, multiple times. To be able to come back with the company, with the story, with the history that exists in the play – it’s going to be a riot! And we will be presenting it now in a new space, which means we’ll get to reimagine some of the ways we approach the play and our characters… I can’t wait!

Interview By: Shawne Wang

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