English: Upper Fifth Groups Watch ‘An Inspector Calls’
In advance of this year’s GCSE English Literature exam, the Bede’s English department took 80 Upper Fifth students to the Playhouse Theatre in London to see a production of one of their exam texts, J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls.
The students left Bede’s at 3pm on the Thursday afternoon and arrived in London in good time to enjoy some dinner in the West End before reconvening to enter the theatre. Situated right on the Thames, and at one end of the Hungerford Bridge, the theatre provided a spectacular setting for the play.
The production was a thought-provoking one that took advantage of set-designer Ian MacNeil’s unique approach to stage design; the stage was occupied by an elaborate Victorian house within which the characters sat at their dinner table, celebrating the engagement of Sheila and Gerald.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, the play sees a wealthy family’s celebration dinner interrupted by a murder enquiry through which Priestley exposes societal tensions related to how the wealthy teach the poor.
During the captivating performance, the Inspector, here played by Scottish actor Liam Brennan, was much more humorous and less solemn than he is written in the text. It was an important experience for the Upper Fifth students, who were pushed to consider the effect of these experimental portrayals on the overall effect of the play.
Even more important was the opportunity to see the play as it was meant to be experienced – on stage, rather than on the page.
The change from spoiled tirade to moral reflection from Sheila, the childish boisterousness of Eric, and the resolutely dogmatic individualism of the Birling parents were all the more sharply rendered by the brilliant acting of the cast.
Most importantly, the students left the Playhouse with a far more precise understanding of Priestley’s goals in writing An Inspector Calls, and the delivery of the Inspector’s final monologue provided the whole group with the opportunity to reflect on the moral relevance of the play’s message about social responsibility.
It is a coda that remains pertinent even today.