How would an audience respond to An Inspector Calls in performance

‘An Inspector Calls’ is a typical play of the late 19th/early 20th century period. It explores in depth what hides behind the respectable front of a middle class family. This type of play was most probably written originally for the working class. I do not think it would have gone down very well with the middle class because the play uncovers the unpleasant truths of combining too much money with lots of free time. This results in controversial behaviour consisting of drunkenness, adultery and theft which are all portrayed in ‘An Inspector Calls’.

An audience would enjoy ‘An Inspector Calls’ because seeing the elite of society having their reputation and live’s disgraced would fill them with gratification that money and power does not always bring happiness. It would also make the audience be grateful for what they have, even if it is just a simple, honest life. Generally, people watching this play in theatre would probably feel sorrow for the family and especially characters like Sheila and Eric who were obviously very shaken up by the whole ordeal.

The story reflects, to an extent a melancholy atmosphere and I feel an audience would probably become very understanding and show compassion for the characters. This would be brought out more in the theatre because the atmosphere is charged and the audience is allowed to let their emotions run free. At the beginning of the play the family are all in a pleasant frame of mind. They are all in evening dress, which signifies they are all of middle class- ‘[Act 1 scene directions] All five are in evening dress of the period.

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The family members are very sure of themselves and act confidently around each other at the beginning.

The Birlings and Gerald are drinking port and are taking advantage of having their parlourmaid, Edna, on hand- ‘Giving us the port, Edna? ‘. The audience will gain from this the impression that the Birlings are rather dependent on their servants. There is an excited atmosphere at the beginning of the play due to the engagement of Gerald and Sheila. This would reflect upon the audience, making them eager to see what lies in the future for the family.

When Birling starts to talk about a possible merge with Crofts Limited the audience realizes that he is very enthusiastic about his business and is also quite selfish because even though he makes out the most important thing is the happiness of Gerald and Sheila, he is just interested in making a profit with a business merge. The audience’s opinion of him will deteriorate even more when they hear the way he treated Eva Smith. The theatre would bring out these opinions and feelings because the actors are much more interactive with the audience than in a film.

The theatre, depending on the play encourages the audience to become involved. When the inspector enters, he treats the family with the respect a middle class family deserves, for example ‘Thank you sir…. Yes, sir. Only recently transferred’ and ‘I’d like some information, if you don’t mind, Mr. Birling’. This will make the audience think he is a typical inspector of the period, and greatly conceals what is to come.

As the story progresses the inspector becomes more and more commanding, for example ‘[massively taking charge] Allow me, Miss Birling…. Cutting in] Isn’t he used to drinking? ‘ and ‘[cutting in, with authority] He must wait his turn. ‘ The audience may be a little startled by the tone the inspector is taking with the family, and may suspect an imposter as the Birlings do towards the end after being informed by Gerald. Personally I did not suspect the inspector being anything other than what he appeared as. For the actors who are playing major parts such as Birling and Inspector Goole remembering all the lines can be hard.

People enjoy and prefer the theatre because they are seeing the actors at their best. In a film if an actor forgets his lines then that section can be cut and then another take can be filmed, however in a theatre there is no going back so the actors must be on top form. This is often a main reason for why people go to the theatre. As the play draws to an end the audience will realize that the inspector is some sort of ‘phantom’ or voice of the family’s conscience – ‘[Rather savagely, to Birling] you started it…. But just remember this….

You mean you stole the money? ‘ These are all good examples of the inspector prodding the consciences of the family. In fact most of the inspector’s statements and questions are imposing, and reveal the guilty conscience of the family. I think J. B. Priestley intentionally made the inspector sound more commanding as the family became more guilty and conscious of what they had done. As the family became more nervous about what would happen to their reputation and got more scared their conscience got harsher on them.

When the family becomes more unhappy and depressed I feel the audience would reflect the same feelings. This relates to what J. B. Priestley said- ‘You cannot be happy when you are surrounded by people who are unhappy. ‘ J. B. Priestley’s language is a mixture of the real at the beginning and the supernatural as the play draws to an end. When the family begins to realize they have all crossed paths with Eva Smith the element of supernatural is interlaced with the action. At this point the audience would find the actors extremely exciting to watch because this is when the plot thickens.

The tense, thrilling portrayal of the character’s situation is one of the main reasons to why people go to the theatre. I think the audience would be quick to pick up the mystical twist, however I feel the end is extremely unpredictable. This is a good style to use in writing and shows J. B. Priestley’s skill in stagecraft because as the play progresses the audience will probably feel that what is to come is rather predictable, until the Birlings discover the inspector had disappeared.

This part is extremely effective because it would leave the twist in the audience’s mind long after the curtain falls. Birling’s ambition to be a respected social role model, a prosperous businessman and to finally receive a knighthood for all of his hard work on behalf of the local council drives him to all extremes. His hopes for his business is to keep the wages he is paying his employees as low as possible so that he can hold competitive prices and gain as much profit as possible.

Unfortunately Eva Smith was a strong willed young lady whom stood up for her rights and revolted against Birling’s preposterous wages. This was not wise and due to Birling’s headstrong outlook on life he refused her proposal for higher wages and had her sacked with the attitude that many women would give their right arm for her job. This careless attitude was what started Eva Smith off with her long line of failure and depression. Birling’s ambition gets in the way of him being a good father and a traditional family man. This results in his family acting very dysfunctional.

The audience would gain the impression from his pompous, selfish attitude that he is an extremely disrespectful, bitter and poor father. One of the messages of the story is that private behaviour can have public consequences. The audience would notice that the family’s horrible, disrespectful behaviour drove Eva Smith to suicide. Each member knew nothing of each other’s involvement with the victim until their conscience pricked them.

They realized their reputation would be damaged after they received the phone call off the genuine police officer. I feel J. B. Priestley intended this message to be conveyed so that the upper and middle classes would pay more consideration to others and be more careful not to affect anyone as Eva Smith was. This message can be portrayed on stage because the emotion is happening there and then and is not recorded as in films. I believe J. B. Priestley wrote ‘An Inspector Calls’ to make a plea for a change in human nature and society. By basing the story around a snobbish middle class family, Priestley was allowed to go to great lengths in making the family sound purposely abrupt and disrespectful to others.

They sometimes went too far in their blatant disregard for others, however this was intentional by Priestley because no other characters could be too shallow or obnoxious to enforce his point that people are fast becoming unsociable. Priestley uses the inspector to convey his messages. When the inspector says ‘ You’re offering money at the wrong time. ‘ This was Priestley’s way in saying that once you make a mistake and recognize what you have done wrong, you should try to put matters straight before the chance is lost, as with Birling.

J. B. Priestley’s play presents the audience with a fascinating study of guilt and innocence, and prejudice and hypocrisy. The sharply-defined characters of the Birling family and Gerald Croft, the enigmatic and puzzling figure of Inspector Goole and the shadowy figure in the background of Eva Smith would never fail to engage the audience and make them realize that people’s standards need to be improved before it is too late. Sheila and Eric are obviously much more shocked by the part they played in Eva Smith’s suicide than the rest of the family.

J. B. Priestley may have purposely highlighted the two younger characters in the play to convey his point that the younger generation must try to be apply a more moralistic and civil attitude to life as Sheila and Eric did towards the end, otherwise the future that lies ahead is going to be quite disenchanting. This is meant to appeal to the younger or more optimistic members of the audience. The hidden message might also be interpreted differently. The audience may feel that the play reflects a brighter future for the younger generation. The message is also another sign of J. B. Priestley’s skill in writing for it deals with a serious matter involving the future generation.

J. B. Priestley wrote the play in 1945, however the play is set in the year 1912. In my opinion I think he could see that the youth had changed since 1912 and maybe wanted to show how different Sheila and Eric were in 1912 compared to the youth in the year the play was written. This message would also apply to the youth of today. At the beginning of ‘An Inspector Calls’, Birling is as usual giving his opinion of where Britain is heading. And we’re in for a time of steadily increasing prosperity’.

He feels Britain is heading for a period of relative social and economic stability. Little does he know, Britain was about to be launched into world war one. It is ironic that the audience knows what is to happen to the country before any of the characters do. This makes the play almost comical in stages because Birling is constantly enforcing his views on future prosperity and likes to believe he is right when in fact the audience knows he will soon be sinking into recession.

The good thing about telling a story that is set before a major event such as world war one is that the audience is instantly given extra background information on the surroundings in which the story is set. I find this would help because people genuinely respond better to subjects they already know a little about. So the audience would be able to immerse themselves into the play more easily. The play seems to suggest that the lower classes will never succeed when coming up against bigger fish. This refers to how Eva Smith was treated by all the members in the Birling family and Gerald Croft.

She was sacked due to Birling and Sheila. She was used by Eric and turned away in her hour of need by Mrs. Birling. Gerald also used her for his mistress and even though he had sincere feelings for her, she still knew they could never continue their relationship due to the circumstances so this also contributed to messing up her life. Once the audience had seen the way Eva Smith had been treated they would have felt very bitter towards the Birlings and Gerald and incredibly sorry for Eva Smith who had had her life torn apart.

This would have made the audience feel sad for Eva and maybe for Sheila and Eric who had recognized what they had done wrong and shown genuine guilt because of it. The end of the play where most of the characters were either feeling sorry for themselves or miserable about what they had done would reflect on the audience and they would also feel quite upset by the whole scenario. This backs up J. B. Priestley’s statement ‘You cannot be happy when you are surrounded by people who are unhappy. ‘

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How would an audience respond to An Inspector Calls in performance. (2017, Oct 12). Retrieved from

How would an audience respond to An Inspector Calls in performance
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