In June 1993, as Wendy Lesser sat in an audience of London's Olivier Theatre waiting to see An Inspector Calls, she knew nothing about Stephen Daldry, the director of the play. She didn't know that he was thirty-three years old, that he was the son of a bank manager and a former cabaret artist, that he had grown up in a Somerset village, that he had joined an Italian circus after taking a degree in English and drama. But when the play began, Lesser found that Daldry spoke to her in a voice she understood: a voice that spoke about the function of theater as art, as entertainment, and as political exhortation. It spoke about the relationship between the world inside and the world outside the theater, about music, language, lighting, sets, and acting. Most of all, it spoke about her role as a member of that particular audience. It made her feel that theater, at its best, can be the most vital and exciting art in the world.
Lesser's reaction to this experience was to write A Director Calls. In it, she forges a new kind of theater criticism: one that fills the gap between the professor's scrutiny of a frozen script and the reviewer's response to a frozen performance. She made contact with Daldry and began an in-depth study of his work, sitting through An Inspector Calls and three subsequent productions many different times and in many different formats, watching scene rehearsals, dress rehearsals, previews, and performances, fragments as well as whole performances, discarded versions as well as final ones. The result is stunning: an entertaining and wide-ranging commentary on every aspect of theater, from staging, interpretation, and critical response to overheard snippets from actors and stage workers, ideas about music and sound effects, and the financial considerations of producing a play. Particularly compelling is Lesser's analysis of Daldry's gift for collaboration and her detailed description of the intimate relationships that exist between the director and his actors, musicians, technicians, and designers.