The year is 1912. The Birlings are celebrating the engagement of their daughter, Sheila, when an Inspector Goole rudely interrupts them. The inspector goes through the characters one by one and interrogates them about the suicide of a young woman, named Eva Smith. When the realisation of how each of them supposedly has had a part to play in the death of the woman hits the Birlings, some of the characters immediately reform, some are disturbed and some are not affected at all. But a few minutes after the inspector has left, they discover that he was not in fact a real police inspector.
Before I saw the play, I was expecting the whole stage to be taken up by a brightly lit dining room. I thought there would be one or two doors leading into the room. I was expecting the inspector to be a very tall man, with a long black coat and a black hat so that you could not see his face. When the lights began to dim in the theatre, three children, dressed from the period of 1945 emerged from a trap door in the stage. As the play went on it become apparent that these children were definitely from another time period. It seemed that the trap door was their doorway from the future to the past. The idea that they came from below, maybe a sewer, immediately put them down below the Birlings.
The music for the opening started off with war sirens to accompany the children dressed in 1945 clothing. After the sirens, came a very dramatic string melody. It seemed over dramatic for the opening, but just made the scene, after the curtain opened, more eerie and dramatic. When the curtain rose, it opened onto a street scene. On the right-hand side of the stage the Birlings’ house stood. It appeared like a dolls house on stilts, above the dirt and grime of the street. The doors and windows were shut up and the only way to get to the house from the street, a small flight of stairs, was broken. The street appeared worn and blitz-torn, with rubble and broken debris. On the left hand side of the stage there was a street lamp. The set is not realistic, but expressionistic because of the doll’s house effect.
The front of the stage was broken in a sort of staircase, as though a bomb had hit it. Also, the Birlings did not have a phone in their house; there was a classic red phone box to the left hand side of the stage. It was not upright, but leaning, also as though it had been hit by a bomb. I think that the set had many relevances to war, either because it was written in 1945, in the last year of World War II, or because at the beginning of the play Birling is reassuring everyone that there will be no World War I, “And I say there isn’t a chance of war.
The world’s developing so fast that it’ll make war impossible…don’t keep your eye on a few German officers talking nonsense and a few scaremongers here making a fuss about nothing.” This would prove Birling wrong; it would be another thing to bring him down with. This is one form of dramatic irony. This affects the audience and illustrates to us more of Birling’s character. It shows us that he is very optimistic, not just positive, but maybe refusing to see the truth. He is not oblivious to see that war could be near, but he just wants to think that the future is bright and that there will be no problems for him.
When the curtain first rose, it was raining and the lighting in the street was very dim. There was fog, or maybe smoke, to go with the blitz torn street. The rain, light and smoke made the whole scene seem apocalyptic, as if the world was going to, or had, ended. On the other hand, the Birlings’ house was full of light, which was pouring out from the few cracks in the windows. Contrast is used in the opening with the piercing light of the Birlings’ house and the dim light in the street. Also, how pristine the house is compared to the street. This is very effective because the dirty street makes the house look even more perfect and immaculate, and the house makes the street look even more filthy and grimy.
The first words that were spoken were by the Birlings. The Birlings were well hidden so that all the focus was on their words. The words are spoken very jollily, because of the happy mood. However, it already becomes apparent that there is some tension between Birling and his son, Eric. Eric laughs at Mrs Birling’s comment about how Sheila will have to get used to her husband-to-be working all of the time, “Now, Sheila, don ‘t tease him. When you’re married you’ll realise that men with important work to do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on their business. You’ll have to get used to that, just as I had.” After this, Eric “guffaws” and this begins and argument between Sheila and himself. Mrs Birling stops this.
The Inspector appears a lot sooner in the Royal National Theatre Production, than in the book. He appears almost immediately as the Birlings begin to talk. Mr Birling in is the middle of boasting about the success of his company. The Inspector is not dressed in the 1912 period clothing; he is dressed in 1940s clothing. He is connected with the children in some ways because he is dressed in the same period clothing and he takes notice of them. Also, he gives one of the boys his hat to wear and an orange. Oranges would have been very hard to acquire during the war because they could not be imported.
It is as though the Inspector is listening in to what the Birlings are saying and the happy mood that they are all in. The Inspector seems quite malicious in some ways because he is attaining pleasure from ruining the Birling’s evening. All of the time that the Inspector is listening is he standing by a lamppost; this makes him look eerie because the lamp is only giving off very dim light. The Inspector rings the doorbell and interrupts Mr Birling explaining his success, “Low costs(referring to low wages), high profit.” When the doorbell rings, the house opens up and the audience can see a quaint dining room with posh decoration. The Inspector never enters the house, but one by one he entices the Birlings and Gerald down. The first character to come down is Mr Birling. The Inspector mends the staircase and he comes down to the street.