As Act 1 continues the Inspector begins to quiz Sheila, and it soon becomes clear that, unlike her father she does has some sympathy for Eva Smith, although she too has played a part in this tragic incident. Hearing Eva found a job in a store frequented by herself she admits, ‘Milwards! We go there.’ This suggests Sheila is linked somehow to Eva Smith, and the fact that she ‘archly’ says to Gerald ‘I was there for your benefit’ shows conflict or tension between them.
The audience would be interested in the underlying conflict between Sheila and her new fiancï¿½, and keen to find out the role Sheila played in Eva’s death. Their suspicions together with the Inspectors would be proven correct as he, ‘produces a photograph…she gives a half-stifled sob, and then runs out.’ This creates dramatic interest in this character as it would be clear at this point, that she too is responsible for this young girl’s unhappiness.
When Sheila returns looking as if ‘she’s been crying,’ the Inspector continues with his enquires asking her for an explanation of what happened in Milwards, ‘why did you do that?’ The audience would firstly wonder what she did, and actually why she did it, but it soon becomes clear that it was due to vanity and her high status in society, ‘you used the power you had…to punish the girl.’ Sheila acknowledges this and is clearly apologetic for her actions, ‘yes I suppose so.’ The tension and interest begin to sink once again until it is Gerald’s turn for questioning in how he morally affected Eva Smith.
Although Eric’s role in Eva’s life and death is not clear until late in the play, dramatic interest in the character is created from the beginning. During the celebration ‘Eric suddenly guffaws’. His explanation however is mystical and somewhat baffling for the audience. He tells Sheila, ‘I don’t know why I laughed’. There is also conflict between Eric and his father which is shown when Mr Birling tells Eric ‘It’s about time you learnt to face a few responsibilities’ which shows another undercurrent of tension between father and son, thus creating audience interest as to why this tension is here. More dramatic interest is created when Eric decides, ‘I’d better turn in’ however the Inspector tells him ‘you’d better stay here.’ The audience would realise at this point that Eric is also implicated in Eva’s death creating dramatic interest.
Gerald Croft is described as a ‘well-bred young man’ with seems perfectly plausible until Sheila informs us that, ‘last summer, you never came near me… I wondered what had happened to you.’ This again gives a hint of tension between the characters, making the audience very interested to know what Gerald was doing last summer; the audience may become suspicious when he tells Sheila, ‘I was busy at the works at that time.’ As the Inspector continues with his enquires he insists Croft stays telling him ‘I’d prefer you to stay’. It is not clear at this point why he has to stay, until Eva Smith’s second name is mentioned – Daisy Renton.
Gerald’s ‘startled’ reaction instantly gives away the fact he knows her but, he lies; ‘why should I have known her’ making the audience wonder why he is now lying and trying to sweet talk Sheila into believing him, he appears anxious as he begs her, ‘now listen, darling.’ She makes him admit the truth, ‘were you seeing her last summer?’ Gerald doesn’t deny it, ‘I’m sorry Sheila’ and then asks that she ‘keeps it from’ the Inspector, so he could maintain his respected well – bred social position.
Act 1 is ended on a cliff hanger, making the audiences interest in the play steadily increase as they would be left wondering, and wanting to know the future for each character, and what sealed Eva Smith’s decision to commit suicide. The use of lighting increases the dramatic effect, as before the inspector arrived the lighting was described as, ‘pink and intimate.’ Almost as if they were living life, looking through rose-tinted glasses. On the Inspectors arrival the lighting becomes, ‘brighter and harder’ as if the Birling’s were being put under a spotlight or interrogated, the lighting reflects the mood of the play.
Throughout the play Eva Smith dominates the action visibly; she is depicted in an idealised way Gerald tells us ‘she was very pretty,’ and even Birling admits she was a ‘lively, good looking girl… a good worker’. The audience would feel sympathy for Eva as she is depicted as the innocent victim. She represents the ‘millions and millions and millions’ of Eva Smiths that remain; the working classes that Priestly believed had the right to the same decent life as the Birlings. Priestly wanted people to learn that it is not acceptable to simply use people for ‘cheap labour’. He uses the Inspector to get his points across and he should be regarded as Priestley’s mouthpiece.
The disruption of the Birlings’ celebration is actually the disruption of their whole lives. The audience soon realises that all of the characters are implicated in the death of Eva and that, one by one, their secrets will be disclosed. They will want to know just how each member came into contact with Eva Smith and, see them face up to what they have done; perhaps be punished, and most importantly learn that the world does not revolve around them. In Act One the audiences curiosity will have been aroused, they will be keen to see how the rest of the play develops meaning audience interest is created.