J.B Priestley wrote the play ‘An Inspector Calls’ in 1945 after the Second World War but the play was set before the First World War, in 1912. The play is about poor people getting their own back on the rich like the Birling family and tries to get across the point that every one should live in an equal society.
J.B Priestley’s text version of the play is much calmer than in the theatre production. The Birlings are all sat around the table having their celebration in a relaxed atmosphere. The theatre production on the other hand is the total opposite, a loud siren starts of the performance and three children are playing on the cobbled street. The Birling house is tall and is built to be high above the poverty stricken streets below, laughing and screeching can be heard from within. The first lines your really hear from the Birlings are when Mr Birling is in the middle of his speech to Gerald and Eric:
‘By the way some of these cranks talk these days you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else,’ His way of thinking is brought across in the way the house has been designed, him not caring about anyone else, feeling superior and only thinking of what he wants. His house is bigger than the rest in his area, he does not want to be part of the community around him, he wants to be better than it. The second the inspector has left the stage the Birling house explodes. I think the director gets the idea for the explosion from the end of the inspector’s speech,
‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire, blood and anguish.’ It is implying that if they do not learn to work together in a community, then the war will happen and the explosion is like the house being bombed in the war. It is also the Birlings perfect world being shattered around them and their easy life is over.
Even though it gives no indication that she does it in the text, the director of this performance get Sheila to take of her dress. He does this to show that she is getting rid of the past, taking off her badness and something that reminds her of her part in Eva Smith’s death. It also ties her in with the poorer people; with out her posh clothes she is not part of the riches any more. I think this idea came from some of the things Sheila says, hinting that she is facing up to what has happened and not trying to hide it away, she is sorry but will never forget what happened.
‘The point is, you don’t seem to have learnt anything’ ‘I behaved badly too. I know I did. I’m ashamed of it’ ‘ but you’re forgetting one thing I still can’t forget. Everything we said had happened, really happened’. The house rebuilds itself at he end to show that because the inspector was a fake and the Birlings’ reputations are still in tacked, they will easily just go back to how they were. It doesn’t matter that is could have happened, they have not learned their lesson and are just going to go back in their own little world. I think the director got the idea for this when Gerald told them that no girl died in the infirmary and Mr Birling said:
‘There you are! Proof positive. The whole story’s just a lot of moonshine. Nothing but an elaborate sell! Nobody likes to be sold as badly as that – but for all that – Gerald have a drink.’ He is just totally forgetting what has happened and getting back to how his life was before the inspector arrived. But the house explodes again, when Mr Birling comes back from taking a phone call he announces, ‘That was the police. A girl has just died – on her way to the infirmary – after swallowing some disinfectant. And a police inspector is on his way here – to ask some – questions’
The second he finishes speaking the bubble bursts and their world, once again collapses around them but this time it is different, there is no rebuilding and the family get separated by the final curtain which then falls right down to reveal the Birling house. Sheila looks back and is horrified to see the house contains a single child. He suggests further that generations could do the same as the Birlings if everyone doesn’t change now and she does not want that to happen. In the distance there is another house identical to the Birlings which could mean that the whole thing is going to start again.
I think the way the stage version of the play was set out would not help a modern audience understand the play. I no the point is that the modern audience does not relate the Birlings world, but they are rich and their house looked very small. It had only one visible room where most of the action was supposed to take place but you could not really see much of it. The way the inspector stood outside for the whole of the play confused me because you would usually invite somebody who you were planning to talk to into your house, but the inspector questions them out on the street in the rain.
Even though the Birlings ending up sprawled on the pavement and the house falling down is suppose to represent their world collapsing around them, if I had not previously read the text version I would have just thought their house was falling down because of the thunderstorm. I also thought it spoiled the atmosphere when the inspector said stop and all the lights came up, though it was trying to make the audience part of the play, it took away the tension built up by the previous scene.