Book – An Inspector Calls
Author – JB Priestley
Year – 1945
Pages – 72
Genre – Play, Mystery
Roles – 4m, 2f, plus one very small female role
Last lockdown, I tried Play A Day (I shan’t explain the concept, I imagine you can guess). It didn’t last very long. This time I am slightly changing the concept so that I will try and read a play in between any two other books that I may read. Doing a shift around of stuff at home revealed the sheer number of plays that Alex and I own between us, so upping my knowledge of them seems a very suitable aim during lockdown two (three? I am losing count). Let’s see how long it lasts this time…
An Inspector Calls is enough of a classic play that it is on most on the GCSE English and Drama sylubuses. It is a mystery play of sorts, and concerns the Birling family, a well to do bunch who are celebrating the engagement of their daughter, Sheila, to Mr Gerald Croft. As their dinner comes to a close, a police detective, Inspector Goole, arrives at their house with some questions to ask regarding the suicide of a young woman that night. One by one, he coaxes from those present what their connections were to this woman, and the role that they had in her downward spiral.
I studied this play at – I believe – GCSE myself. I could remember very little about it other than the impressive set when we saw it in the West End with the school. It is a great play though, and it is very much understandable how it has survived the passage of time to become a classic. The characters are understandable, if not always relatable, and the story plays out perfectly – with this kind of a play, I always appreciate it most if we as an audience work out the next little twist momentarily before it is explicitly revealed, and Priestly manages this repeatedly throughout the play. It helps that the whole thing has a left-leaning socialist bent to it, which I very much resonate with, but the overall effect is less overtly political, and more of a general understanding of the writer’s social intent.
There is a divide in the first half of the twentieth century where the writing changes from something that feels archaic to something more modern. I have not quite put my finger on exactly when that occurs, but the fact that this play is still understandable by teenagers today shows that in terms of language this falls into the latter camp. I found it an easy read – something that I am appreciative of, even if I am not always looking specifically for this. However, as is usually the case, I am positive that it would make for a better on stage spectacle than written in the book. With its regular revivals, I am sure that – once the theatres are back open – it will only be a matter of time until I have the opportunity.