Shortly after Birling’s speech, the Inspector arrives. In Priestley’s production of this, it would have been a sudden, unexpected arrival- the doorbell ringing and Edna ushering him in. The modern interpretation is much more hooking and captivating- mainly because we have the view outside the enclosed house. In this performance, the Inspector appears much earlier then his announcement and for the most part stands silent and guardful underneath the dim lamppost in the centre of the stage outside the Birling’s house- and by doing so overhears everything that Birling says- his pride, ignorance, selfishness- the lot.The way the Inspector appears upon the stage, sparks a lot of questions.
While the Birling’s celebrate inside, he enters from a red phone box- the sort which is common everywhere but would not have been in 1912. Dressed in 1945 clothes of a bowler hat and a long beige over coat he adds a new atmosphere to the play- a tense atmosphere- we know now that something is going to happen. He is definitely a time traveller but why such a sense of purpose and calm? -it gives you no doubt he has travelled before and knows exactly what he is up to.However though he is dressed well, he does not seem to intimidate the young boys playing in the street- on the contrary he seems to be fatherly and kindly figure- giving out an orange to one after a bit of teasing- another clue to his that he comes from another time as oranges are a thing unheard of in that period to that class. When the two men, Birling and the Inspector meet, Priestley makes it a civilised meeting- wine is offered, formalities exchanged before the reason for his visit is explained and the questioning explodes. The Royal National Theatre production leans more towards the more dynamic and symbolic approach. Instead of a civilised technique it turns into a shouting match- each (Birling and the Inspector) trying to show that they are the greater power with Birling finally relenting and agreeing to be questioned.
As soon as this occurs the house opens- as if it is a dolls house, it opens up and the whole interior is bared for the world’s examination. This is greatly symbolic in itself. Before, the house and the Birling’s had been shut off- secluded from the rest of the world, but now the Inspector has made them open up and their lives are exposed. The National Theatre production does however blend in Priestley’s idea of involving the audience and making us part of the play by making us witnesses to the case being investigated. This is mainly apparent in Shelia’s confession, in which instead of turning and speaking to the Inspector who is questioning her, she stops and turns to us the audience- the world.She is not mentally conscious that we are there but knows what she is doing- she is letting the world into her life instead of trying to block it out. Another example of collaborating with the audience is in Eric’s reentrance after it has been brought to light that Eva Smith was Eric’s mistress and carried his baby. On the stage dry ice is put into use and a thick smoke screen envelopes one side of the stage from which a crowd of lower class people appear in – led by the Inspector- more witnesses for the Birling’s realisation of their responsibility.
It is then that Eric runs on stage and is faced by the people and his family and more importantly the true horror of his crime. At that moment the lights on the audience come on and are all visible whereas before they had been in the dark. This symbolizes that though we may not have been apparent before, we have always been there- judging and watching them but only when the truth is finally unraveled do they finally accept us.All the way through the play, Eva Smith has been the focus point of the performance- the scapegoat of the Birling’s and Gerald Croft’s selfish, vindictive, greedy and greater powers.
She is fired by Mr. Birling for wanting a higher salary, fired again when she had thought herself happy and settled through Sheila’s jealous and selfish temperament, kept, though gratefully as a mistress by Gerald, made pregnant and even more wretched by Eric and finally pushed over the edge by Mrs. Birling’s refusal for the smallest pitiable amount of help she could have granted through her prejudice and scorn.
Of course as Birling stated”- If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everyone we’d has anything to do with, it would be very awkward” For none of them actually made Eva Smith commit suicide did they? Surely they are not to blame for her death as how were they to know what the implications of their actions would create. This was the response of the two older Birling’s- at first complete denial of their involvement then when completely found out, denial that Eva’s death was their responsibility- though they were undoubtedly the start and end of the chain of events which were to lead to the tragedy. Their children and Gerald, however, do not need as great an interrogation as the elders to repent and declare their guilt- Sheila especially is immediately grief stricken and horrified that what she considered was only a meaningless affair- turned out so awful. She immediately takes responsibility of her actions.”So I’m really responsible?” and later “-And I know I’m to blame- and I’m desperately sorry- but I cant believe- I wont believe – it’s simply my fault-” She is acknowledging it but more to the point she wants to share the responsibility and not take all the blame. A sense of community is awakening in her. Eric her brother whose actions were even more destructive to Eva’s life is also as distraught and full of shame. In the text there is a slight amount of anger that he has been found out but it turns immediately to grief.
Out of all those involved he had committed almost the worse crime. Yet he had tried to help her and even asked her to marry him as well as stealing money for her. So though he had acted wrongly and got Eva pregnant, he had tried to right it and had not run away from the problem.
He also shows the most feeling for her death and when he learns of his mother’s refusal to help the girl, almost attacks her in his anger.Eva Smith has her name and description of her brought to light throughout the performance but we as the audience never see her so have to create our own image of her. The name Eva immediately channels your mind to the story of Adam and Eve- the first people on earth in biblical history. Eve the first and only woman. In a way if you think of Eva as Eve, she represents the entire female sex. Smith on the other hand is a common name which would have been usual for the lower classes and gives us something to relate to. Eva Smith is the key of the play, the topic of conversation and the reason for the investigation. Most importantly, she is used to evoke emotion from the audience and characters.
She binds everything and everyone together.The Inspector in the play is an extremely debatable character as no-one apart from Priestly who wrote the play, are quite certain who he is meant to be. He is definitely the loudspeaker of Priestley’s views- in the way that throughout the play the Inspector always returns to his primary objectives of emphasising his ideas of community and that we are responsible for everyone not just ourselves.
“Public men Mr Birling have responsibilities as well as privileges.”