The inspector’s speech is emphasized further when near the end of the play; Sheila repeats the harsh lines “fire, blood and anguish”. Our mind is immediately brought back to the inspector’s speech, which contains a major message of the play. Again, the contrast in characters here emphasizes a major theme – of how everybody’s lives are interconnected in some way. It is important because it vividly presents what Priestly is trying to convey. This clarity creates a more powerful message and therefore must be a part of the play’s success.
The mixture of characters helps to add a realistic view to the play but also adds interest to the plot. The Inspector is calm, serious and authoritative – stage direction: “Inspector – cutting in massively and taking control of the situation”. Mrs. Birling is arrogant and harsh. Birling is independent-minded and proud. Sheila is sensitive and remorseful but also jealous. Basically all of the characters are different and this helps to maintain interest and realism. Another element of the play’s success is the mood and atmosphere that it creates.
An obvious point when reading the play is the precise and essential stage directions that appear in large numbers. Priestly wants the play to be acted correctly and the right moods to be conveyed by the actors just as he had planned them. Examples are: “She looks attentive, as they all do”. “Gerald, rather embarrassed, begins to murmur some dissent”. “Coolly, looking hard at him” These stage directions, like the many others, are direct and ensure that the exact effect is achieved. This makes the play precise, unequivocal and easier to understand, a way of ensuring an impact and success.
Other stage directions include the dropping of the curtain at key points of the play, and then it’s reopening to reveal the same scene, as it was left. This creates a dramatic pause in the action, which adds suspense to the play. It is the like how an author ends a chapter and begins a new one in a novel – if he does it effectively it makes the reader want to know what happens next. Here, the pause makes the audience want to know what happens next. The way in which the interviews between the inspector and the characters are written, lead to a succession of dramatic situations.
Each character is questioned in turn, and their secrets and their links with the victim and revealed one after another. This ensures wave after wave of drama and action. It all happens quickly as well, so that the audience has just been shocked with a secret and then almost immediately presented with another, or at least the possibility of one. This method adds a great amount of drama and suspense to the play. A factor that creates a realistic atmosphere is the timescale the play is based on.
The events unfold before the audience just as they would actually happen. There are no lapses in time or any point that the play jumps forward in time. The audience is made to feel that instead of being in a theatre they could actually be watching the dining room of a family one evening. Involving the audience in the play like this makes the whole mood more personal; one feels closer to the action. Therefore any drama that occurs causes a greater reaction on the audience than if the timescale of the play was less realistic.
The play has a lot of dramatic potential outside the script. Lighting, choice of music, sound effects (the doorbell and the phone ring) and the scenery can be used to add drama to the play and it is the play’s adaptability that is a key element to it’s modern success. The play has a lot of ideas than can be developed without changing the impact of it. For example, the latest production of it shows the Edwardian dining room as it should be, but all around, outside the house the scene is one of destruction, the affects of the war to come.
This is very dramatic. It conveys the link between present and future, as well as being ironic with Birling’s “nonsense of war” speech. It is an extension of a major theme that priestly conveys: each generation’s responsibility to the world, and future generations. This point brings us back to Priestly’s excellent choice of subject matter. He has used this theme of ‘each generation has its own responsibility’ very wisely. It is a universal theme, and is just as relevant today, perhaps more so, than it was when the play was written.
I have looked at many methods Priestly used to write his play that all give justice to its high success rate today, but there is one more factor that clearly makes this play a very dramatic and powerful piece of work: the ending. Who is the inspector? Judging from the issues Priestly had raised in the play, personally I think that the inspector, the other characters and indeed the whole play is a microcosm of the way Priestly sees the world. The ‘inspector’ visited the family and told them of the damage they had done, but then they proved he did not really exist, it was like a warning of their potential to do damage.
Then the damage does actually happen- a suicide, self-destruction, and because the characters lives were all interconnected they not only did damage to the woman but damage to themselves. I think that Priestly’s point is to warn of the terrible, self-destruction the human race may well do through war. A big clue to this is the fact he wrote the play at the end of the second world war – and was most probably influenced by the effects of war, but set it just before the beginning of the first world war. The inspector’s warning to the family is Priestly’s warning to the world.