‘An inspector calls’ is a moral play about the Birling family and their guest Gerald Croft who are having dinner in celebration of the engagement of Sheila Birling and Gerald Croft. They are all happy and gleeful until they are suddenly interrupted by an inspector who is investigating the death of a girl named Eva Smith. The play slowly progresses from ignorance to knowledge as the inspector slowly unravels the involvement of each member of the family to the girl’s suicide. Time, place and action are significant factors of the structure of the play.
Priestley highlights the significance of time and the consequences of people’s actions by using well known references to events in history such as the sinking of the Titanic and the world wars. He cleverly sets the play before the Second World War yet he wrote it after the Second World War. By doing this it enabled him to put forward his socialist views of social responsibility and use examples of horrors the world faced due to ignorance of social responsibility and selfishness to help influence the audience’s opinions and views. The play is set in the Birling’s living room and this setting is continuos throughout the play.
This may be because Priestley wants people to focus on the moral behind the story rather than the fancy stage setting and props. The play starts out as a straightforward detective thriller with the audience trying to find out who was responsible for the death of Eva Smith yet as the story unravels, the story focuses on the morality of each of the character’s actions and the effect these actions had on Eva Smith. By doing this Priestley highlights the importance of these actions and conveys a powerful message of morality. As a director I would start the play with darkness everywhere whilst the curtains are being pulled apart.
Then I would have a blinding white light shone on the chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the stage. At the exact moment that the light is seen, I would have a piece of soothing music played slowly getting louder and louder. As the audience watch the hypnotising motion of the light playing with the crystals of the chandelier, I would change the colour of the light to a sky blue creating a peaceful mood. This would allow the audience to relax and get into the mood of the play as they watch the chandelier flinging rectangular shapes onto their faces.
I would then have the light slowly spread across the stage revealing the interior of a house with “good solid furniture of the period”. As the light is spreading, I would have the music increase in speed and volume, finally coming to a climax when the table is revealed. Around the table are five figures who are engulfed in shadows despite being around a table, which is filled with light. I would then have the music suddenly stop with a loud unnerving bang making the audience jumpy and a little scared.
I would then have a spotlight slowly crawl its way from the table to the end of the stage in an eerie silence, as a figure at the end of the stage becomes apparent. Just as the spotlight reaches the figure I would have it stop for a couple of seconds bringing the audience to the edges of their seats as they become anxious to know who the figure is. Then the light would slowly creep up from the figure’s legs to the figure’s face revealing to the audience Edna the maid dressed in a black dress with a white pinafore and carrying a tray.
I would have the spotlight stay on Edna as she stands at the end of the stage for a couple of seconds. Then as Edna walks towards the table, the spotlight would follow her and with every step that Edna takes, the brighter the light would become on the table slowly revealing to the audience the Birling family and Gerald Croft sitting around the table. The Birling family and Gerald Croft should look like their in deep conversations as they murmur and laugh which is then interrupted by Edna’s appearance.
I would stage the opening act with a naturalistic tone to set the idea of comfort and satisfaction that the Birling family and Gerald Croft are feeling. Tone and lighting play an important part in expressing the play’s themes and tensions, as there is no change in scene. Therefore a lot more effort has to put into keeping the audiences attentions and the tone and lighting play a vital role in doing this. Priestley specifies that the living room in which the play is set is a ‘fairly large suburban house, which has good, solid furniture of the period’. Despite this the home produces a comfortable but not quite cosy effect.
In the opening act I would follow Priestley’s specifications and have lighting of a pink/red colour producing an effect of happiness and the portraying the rose tinted mood the family and guest are feeling. This rose-tinted mood is then interrupted when the inspector calls rather unexpectedly. This should be represented by the lighting, which should become a lot harsher and brighter to portray the surprise and alarm felt, by the Birling family. Also this use of intense bright light could portray that the Birlings and Gerald Croft are being put under the spotlight.
In the opening scene the Birlings and their guest Gerald Croft are seated at the dining table. They have just finished their dinner and are having their plates cleared by Edna the parlour maid. Priestley chooses to mention that Edna is clearing the table “which has no cloth” perhaps because he wants to hint at the fact that the Birlings despite seeming high class aren’t really as shown by their lack of breeding i. e. no table cloth. All five characters are said to be in the evening dress of the time with the men being in white ties and tails.
Priestley describes Mr Birling as a portly pretentious man in his mid fifties with average manners and “rather provincial” in his speech meaning that despite all the money, Mr Birling’s class can be sensed by his accent. Mrs Birling is described as a cold woman who is her husband’s social superior. Sheila Birling is in her early twenties and is summarised as a pretty girl who is pleased and excited. Eric on the other hand is said to half- shy and half-nervous leaving us to think that he is rather troubled. Gerald who is Sheila’s fiance is described as a thirty-year-old well bred young man about town.
The play begins with Mr Birling instructing Edna to get some port, this is nothing strange in itself except that Mr Birling seems to be trying to impress Gerald by stating that it is “the same your father gets”. This can be emphasised by Mr Birling saying it in an eager tone that seeks approval from Gerald. Gerald doesn’t really know much about port and admits to this, which makes Sheila join in by stating in a matter of fact voice “I should jolly well think not Gerald, I should hate for you to know all about port like one of these purple faced old men”.
Mr Birling would then reply “here, I’m not a purple faced old man”. I would direct this piece of dialogue to be acted out playfully in a joyous voice expressing the rapture the family and Gerald are feeling. I would probably ask Sheila to say her words in a matter of fact voice, which hints at her naiveti. Mr Birling would also speak in a mock defensive yet still cheerful voice. This piece of dialogue is vital as it shows that before the inspector’s arrival the family, were blissful in their ignorance of Eva Smith’s existence. This would change after the arrival of the inspector.