Business control

When the inspector arrives, Sheila’s inquisitive nature comes to light when she says, “What business, what’s happening?” and on the same line as this, the stage directions command you to come further into the room. I feel that you should look at all of the actors on the stage. You do not yet know that this ‘news’ is something sinister so you should still seem happy, perhaps with the hint of an idea that is something that Sheila doesn’t really want to know.

Then, when you are told what has happened and when you say “Oh – how horrible…” then you should perhaps take a few steps back as an indication that you don’t want it to have happened but refuse to leave the room. As you are told of Mr Birling’s involvement in the girl’s suicide you are fairly surprised, but not very as Sheila would be aware of her father’s ‘hard-headed’ business control.

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When Sheila learns of her very own involvement with this girl, when she got her sacked from Milwards for smirking at Sheila behind her back she is extremely upset. There should be an instant recollection, a moment when it all comes flooding back to Sheila and this hits her hard. This moment should be when she sees the photograph that the Inspector shows her. The ‘sob’ that is mentioned in the stage directions should be very loud and she be followed by stifled crying, as you are running off stage – play to be a very dramatic moment.

When your character returns to the stage, to discover more, she has composed herself to the lady that she is supposed to be. She accepts what she has done and just wants to know: “I’m really responsible?” .As she begins the story of what happened at Milwards she gets slightly more upset and “distressed”. When Eric starts to pile the guilt on a bit, (“…it’s a bit thick,”) Sheila snaps: “(stormily) Oh shut up, Eric.”

Sheila, in this paragraph starts to feel very guilty, saying that she will never do anything like that again. At the end of a short speech from the Inspector he mentions the name, Daisy Renton. At the mention of this Gerald becomes very surprised and asks the Inspector to repeat himself. When Gerald becomes shocked, it is essential that you are looking at him – otherwise Sheila will not be able to assume that he knew her. When the Inspector leaves the room with Eric and Sheila starts to quiz Gerald about this girl, she gets extremely annoyed with him for avoiding the questions. You should start to quicken your speak and also increase in volume – this will show the state of Sheila’s temper.

At the very, very end of the Act 1, there is a very significant point when Sheila “laughs rather hysterically” and calls Gerald a “fool”. Gerald still believes that he may have got away with the connection he had with the dead girl but Sheila knows otherwise. She is completely in control of the situation and it very unusual as she is meant to be the ‘girl’ of the household and women were considered less intelligent than men in that era.

It is very ironic that the young, pretty girl knows what is happening in a situation when the young, man does not. The Inspector then enters the stage and tension is great. The Inspector knows that they have been discussing Gerald’s involvement with this girl’s life and he has come back to discover the truth. Sheila is relaxed as she was expecting this to happen and she believes that Gerald with tell the truth.

In Act 1 Sheila begins as a very silly, pretentious, giddy and excited young lady. Towards the closing scene, it is evident that she has a fiery temper and that she will not let Gerald get away with something. She has respect for her parents and is perfectly happy to continue in life, as they want her to; being the prodigal daughter. Act 2 opens with the characters in the same positions and Gerald tries to excuse Sheila from the situation but she refuses to go, as she knows the Inspector has further questions to ask – she wants to know the truth and to see how much of the blame should be placed upon her. For this, you should refuse with bluntness, as the Inspector and Gerald have no control over her decision of whether she stays or not.

Mrs Birling returns to the scene soon after and tries her best to make a grand entrance, with self-confidence with very out of key with the scene that has just taken place. She waltzes in, smiling and tries to be social with Inspector, offering him a good evening. As soon as she has welcomed the Inspector she is telling him that there is nothing more that they can tell him, which Sheila knows is complete rubbish and suspects that even Mrs Birling herself could be involved.

She tries to stop her mother ruining it before she has begun and tries to warn her with “No, Mother – please!” but Mrs Birling thinks that Sheila is just being a silly girl and doesn’t appreciate that Sheila has valid and correct opinions of her own. You, as Sheila, must put lots of emotion into this as this will show to the audience, that although Sheila does not completely agree with her parents, who try to protect her from the world, she is actually trying to protect them from getting into trouble. Again, Sheila tries to get brushed away from the unpleasant situation, this time by Mrs Birling but Sheila is the one who understands the fullest extent of it. To this Sheila replies more politely than last time and this shows that she had more respect for her parents than Gerald.

The Inspector starts to try and get Mrs Birling to say something that will later land her in trouble and Sheila is trying her very, very best to stop her mother from doing so. This proves that she does care for her mother and understands how Mrs Birling will feel if the Inspector makes her feels inferior. Mrs Birling totally ignores Sheila and continues to distance herself from the dead girl. Sheila explains very carefully to her mother that she must stop what she is doing and the Inspector agrees with her. To this, Mrs Birling says, “That – I consider – is a trifle impertinent, Inspector.” To this remark Sheila “gives a short hysterical laugh”. The respect that she has for her mother has been destroyed as she realises that her mother will not believe Sheila knows more than she does. This should be played with true amusement as well as horror, embarrassment and even shame.

The Inspector then takes control of the scene and starts to inform the characters that have just entered the stage of what has come to light. When he comes the fact that Gerald has known her, he tries to deny it again but Sheila ‘bitterly’ says, “Of course he did.” I think that it would be excellent is Sheila was to say this without even moving, or perhaps while focusing on something unrelated, such as flowers or out of the window or a glass. This would show that she is deep in thought, remorse or probably guilt.

“Well, we didn’t think you meant Buckingham Place.” Is the next thing that Sheila says and it is meant with great sarcasm. This really shows to the audience how she is feeling now she knows that Gerald and this girl had an affair. She is mocking him, something that she wouldn’t have dreamed of doing before this evening. Mrs Birling then tried to excuse Sheila when prostitution is mentioned; she says she doesn’t think Sheila should listen to this story at all. Sheila tells her that she is forgetting that she is the fianc�e of the hero of it. She is now mocking her mother as well as Gerald.

Sheila suddenly becomes aware of Eric’s involvement in the life of the girl. “(With sudden alarm) Mother – stop – stop!” she desperately tries to stop her mother from saying something she will later regret. The urgency of these messages must be played with tremendous emotion. Perhaps stand up, knock something over on the table for example. Mr and Mrs Birling only realise that it is Eric the Inspector is talking about when he tells them that he waiting for Eric to return before he can ‘do his duty’, which is what Mrs Birling has told him to do.

In Act 2, Sheila changes quite a lot, as a character. She becomes far deeper – more genuine emotions become apparent and she seems to lose some of the respect she held for her parents and Gerald. She becomes less dependant upon them, not agreeing with everything they say which is the way that they would want it. The events of the evening have hit her quite badly, even though she wants to continue to the end. She wants to discover the truth, and the whole truth at that.

In Act 3, Sheila tells Eric that it is his mother’s fault the Inspector comes down so hard on him. Mrs Birling said that the person who got this girl pregnant should be made an example of and shouldn’t be let to get away with it. She changes her stance on the situation completely of course, when she discovers Eric is the young man in question. Eric blames his mother, because he knows what she is like and how she can separate herself and her family from other people of other classes.

Sheila tells her family that they have not learnt anything by the evening’s experiences. They are all very glad when they realise that the Inspector was not actually a policeman. They seem to feel like they have been let off the hook. Mr Birling thought that his chances of being on the honour’s list would be ruined in the evening’s events became public knowledge so he was extremely pleased to discover he wasn’t a police inspector. However, the now mature, deep and perceptive Sheila adds that it doesn’t matter whether he was a police inspector or not, he was still an inspector and he inspected them. They discovered things about themselves that even they didn’t know; yet this stranger did. Sheila realised that she had been through an emotional turmoil and she wanted to leave with something. She grows as a character.

So, to summarise, Sheila is a na�ve and giddy in Part 1. She then becomes a bit excitable, angry and upset in Part 2. In Part 3 she is still angry but is a bit more thoughtful and analysing. As the play is set in the 1910’s, costume is essential. Fashions were changing very rapidly during the turn of the 20th Century so Sheila would probably be wearing a corseted dress with very elaborate accessories. The production company upon arrival at the playhouse, of course, will provide these. Remember, Sheila ‘growing’ as a character from Act to Act becoming angrier, then thoughtful, deep and forgiving.