How would you direct An Inspector Calls to ensure that it is still relevant today? J.B Priestly wrote An Inspector Calls in 1945, but he set it in the year of 1912, and throughout the play there are several prominent ideas. Over the years, the way in which Priestly has presented these thoughts, while still relevant, may not be as effective as they were several decades ago. As time has changed, so has the way in which society views them – even if the ideas are identical. So how would the play be directed in order to make it relevant to current times?
The main theme must be identified at the outset to first be able to update the play so that is still relevant. Priestly has deliberately set his play in 1912 to emphasise on the differences and his themes between the society at that present time (1945), and in the past. The consequences of the events in those 33 years led to huge changes in society. For example, in 1912 the class and gender boundaries ensured that things wouldn’t change, but the event of two world wars caused a large upheaval to society, breaking down the class boundaries, and for women to gain a more valued place in society. This means that the new setting must still be able to foreshadow future events that will take place, to keep the sense of dramatic irony. For example, Priestly writes
Birling: The world’s developing so fast that it’ll make war impossible…..Why, a friend of mine went over this new liner last week – The Titanic – she sails next week….and unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable. The setting of this play is before world war one and two, and also the sinking of the Titanic, thus showing Birling foreshadowing future events, and adding to the dramatic irony. The main theme that is central to the play is responsibility, for example, who was accountable for Eva Smith’s death? Priestly uses the inspector to blame not one sole individual for her death, but for everyone as a group. The inspector addresses the family,
Each of you helped to kill her This reflects Priestley’s own views, that everyone is responsible for one another as a community and society. The inspector then leaves a final warning, that I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson , when they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. If I were to direct this play so that this theme would be relevant today, I would first have to change the setting of the whole play. Instead of setting it in 1912, I would instead set it in roughly the year 2000.
This would make it more accessible for everyone, such as students. As such, changes to the script would also have to be made. Near the beginning, when Birling mentions the Titanic and how war would be impossible, I would replace it with events such as how Birling now believes that a terrorism attack would be impossible, and how poverty would have been eradicated through economic growth. Instead of a young girl killing herself through drinking bleach, I would instead have a young girl who has committed suicide through a drug overdose and alcohol poisoning.
The different members of the Birling family would still have made a significant impact to the girl; with ultimately all of them being responsible for what Eva Smith eventually does to herself. The stage production of An Inspector Calls, directed by Ian Macneil, started with a darkened scene, akin to a World War II setting, with children finding an old radio from pre-World War I, and discovering themselves in the world of “An Inspector Calls”. Directing this as a play, I wouldn’t bother with the need to be transported to a different time or place, as the setting has changed so that it’s now in the modern times.
The stage would first be set at a garden party, and when the Inspector arrives: a storm begins and as such; they move indoors. This would reflect what effect the Inspector will have on the family, to turn it from a peaceful happy environment, to one that is fraught with darkness and unhappiness. The weather would progressively change to imitate the atmosphere that is being experienced within the family.