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J. B. Priestly’s 1945 play “An Inspector calls” is still a success today. A new production of it has opened in the West-end, a sure-sign of its popularity and the play’s success rate. Why is it still doing so well? A main theme of the play centres on the idea of different classes in society, something that has been evident to us all throughout history, and is therefore a very accessible theme for many people. This important theme is highlighted right at the beginning of the play when it is clear that Gerald Croft’s parents don’t entirely approve of his choice to marry Sheila Birling:
“I have an idea that your mother – while she doesn’t object to my girl – feels you might have done better for yourself socially” When Gerald’s parents are brought up in conversation, also at the beginning, we hear the probable excuse for their absence: “It’s a pity Sir George croft and Lady Croft can’t be with us, but they’re abroad and so it can’t be helped” The difference in class between the Crofts and the Birlings can even be observed in the way Gerald speaks compared to how Mr. Birling speaks. Gerald seems to speak in a more upper-class way than Birling.
For instance Gerald says things like “Oh – I say” and “Hear, hear! ” and his speech is more educated and precise than Birling’s, whose speech is more relaxed. For instance Birling says things like “y’know eh? ” and throughout the play Birling abbreviates words such as “them” to “’em “, subtly suggesting a less-educated and precise character. This non-extreme conflict of class observed in the opening sets the scene for the whole play and by being subtle it achieves effect, by gently introducing the key element of the plot ahead early on without overshadowing events to come.
This sub-consciously familiarises the audience with the main theme making what’s to come more affective and powerful. When the inspector tells of the girl’s suicide he presents it in a blunt, direct manner. This obviously affects and shocks the characters but also it has profound importance in capturing the audience’s attention. “This afternoon a young woman drank some disinfectant, and died, after several hours of agony, tonight, in the Infirmary”
As soon as the inspector states this intensely dramatic line – made more dramatic by the position of the commas that add pauses, resulting in emphasis – the whole mood changes from the happy, family party atmosphere to a curiously uncomfortable and somewhat concerning mood. We have had the background and now the drama begins, still relatively early in the play, which is important as the attention of the audience has been captured relatively early in the plot. From this point on, the audience is continually wondering what the outcome is going to be.
The play becomes a thriller – another way of maintaining intense interest and a significant part of the play’s success. Aside from the ‘Class’ and ‘Thriller’ aspects of the play, we also have a theme of revelation. The family are continually learning about each other and emphasis is places on appearance and reality. We witness a transition of a happy family turning into a family full of secrets and lies, adding intense drama that will keep an audience interested.