They are a wealthy midlands family. He is a straight talking detective. One minute they are having a family celebration the next, their cosy world is torn apart. Who is the mysterious stranger and where will he strike next? An Inspector Calls has the audience guessing from the outset. Lilly Page plays Sheila Birling, a spoilt excitable young girl who breaks free of convention. Fredric Wood is Arthur Birling, a gritty factory boss who stands no nonsense. Damian Darke is brilliant as the Inspector who appears one night and changes their life forever. SMUG: Lilly Page as Sheila Fredric Wood as Mr Birling The play is set in 1912 on the night that the Titanic sank. In those days society was divided into rich and poor.
The rich enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle with well furnished large homes, elegant clothes, servants, and the time to enjoy expensive hobbies and a good social life. However many people were poor and lived in small, cramped, and unsanitary conditions. They worked long hours for low pay. In those days there was no government help such as unemployment benefit and the National Health Service. Disadvantaged people had no right to assistance from the government. They had to apply for help from a charity committee who decide if they were a deserving case. This must have been humiliating as the applicants were made to feel as if they were begging. In those days rules of society were very strict. People were bound by social conventions and the classes could not mix.
The play was written and first performed in 1945. In years between when the play was set and when it was written a lot had happened. There had been two world wars and a worldwide economic depression in the 1930’s. In the second world war people came together to fight the common enemy. This led to a mixing of social classes and the sexes, and a breaking down of the usual conventions.
The rationing of food and clothes meant that everybody was treated the same. It didn’t matter if you were rich, you could only buy these items if you had enough coupons. People from different classes worked together in the forces. Working class children from the big cities were evacuated to the countryside and experienced a different way of life. The war brought people together. The Birlings live in Brumley, an industrial city in the North Midlands. Arthur Birling is a factory owner and self made man. Sybil Birling is a cold woman and is her husband’s social superior. Sheila Birling is young, pretty and was brought up to behave in a ‘suitable’ manner. Her brother, Eric Birling, is irresponsible and immature. Gerald Croft is a well-bred traditionalist.
Damian Darke as the inspector Mr Birling is a self-made business man described in the stage directions as “pompous”. It is clear from the start that he only cares about making money and looking after his family. His only business interest is to get ‘lower costs and higher prices’. Eva Smith encouraged other workers to go on strike for higher pay and she was sacked for standing up to Mr Birling.
J.B. Priestly makes it apparent that he is an ignorant fool because he is certain that he is always right. However, when he lectures Eric and Gerald he says things like; The Titanic is unsinkable, there won’t be any more wars and there won’t be any more labour agitations. This is ironic and the audience would know that the Titanic had sunk, there had been two world wars and there had been a general strike and the rise of the labour party.
He shows no remorse for Eva Smith’s death and after the Inspector is exposed as a fake he wants to pretend that nothing has happened and things can return to the way they were before. Mr Birling is callous when he suggests to Sheila that they will ‘have a good laugh over it yet’. Sheila had Eva Smith sacked from Milwards shop because she thought that Eva was laughing at her. Unlike Mr Birling, Sheila is sorry for, and ashamed of, her actions. The events of the evening have changed Sheila’s outlook on life.
At the beginning of the play Sheila is pampered, spoilt and “very pleased with life”. Sheila is protected from the harsh realities of life and is kept under her mother’s wing. As the play progresses, Sheila becomes aware of herself and is sure about her own opinions. At the end of the play, Sheila has become so perceptive that she acts like the Inspector. She asks lots of questions and even orders her father not to “interfere”. The fact that Sheila and Mr Birling are from different generations is significant. J.B Priestly shows the older generation as being stuck in their ways and looks towards the younger generation to change the future.
The Inspector speaks with authority and a strong moral tone. He uses emotive language. A normal Police Inspector would have said that Eva Smith had committed suicide by drinking poison, whereas Inspector Goole describes her as now lying “with a burnt-out inside on a slab”. His role is to piece together the story of Eva Smith as he speaks to the family. Up to the point when a phone call reveals that Inspector Goole isn’t a Police Officer the play is like an ordinary detective story. After the phone call the Birling’s and the audience realise that it is themselves and their morals that are being inspected. The Inspector comes into the play at the point where the Birling’s are having a family celebration and are very pleased with themselves.