The inspector is the centre of the play and this is shown in the way he is different from the other characters and the way he dominates the script. There is a massive contrast between the Birlings’ celebrations at the beginning of the play to when the inspector comes in. When the inspector enters the play everything seems to turn to ice we know that everything is going to turn upside down. What the Birling family were celebrating at the beginning of the play doesn’t even exist at the end of it so comparing the beginning to the end there is a big change and a massive contrast.
At the Royal National Theatre “An Inspector Calls” production the stage was set as a street. In the middle of the street was the Birlings’ house. This was up high away from the poverty below. At the beginning of the play there were war sirens and children scurrying around like rats in 1940’s clothing. These time zones help create the dramatic irony, already present in the script. There are three time zones portrayed in the production the first one is the 1940’s. Throughout the play the inspector and other figures such as the children who represent the poor and lower class are all dressed in 1940’s clothes. The next time zone is the time that the play was set in and it is 1912. The last time zone is when the fourth wall is broken down by the inspector in his final speech and is the present day and the future.
The Birlings house is like an ivory tower that is isolated from the poverty stricken world below. This is portrayed in the Royal national Theatre production by a grand dining room that is on stilts. The inspector brings them down one by one into the street below. Their world only seems to include the upper class and the working class if necessary, as Mr. Birling has to employ them. However, later on the Inspector brings them down one by one and makes them confess that they have all played a part in Eva Smiths death.
The inspector affects the structure of the play by questioning the Birlings one by one. He questions them in chronological order. However, he does question Mrs. Birling before Eric whereas in time order Eric should have been first. The inspector does this so that Mrs. Birling condemns her son without realizing it “And he ought to be dealt with severely”. This is dramatically very effective as it shows that Mrs Birling is hypocritical. She suddenly is trying to protect her son when she finds out he was responsible for impregnating Eva Smith. Priestly creates tension and focus by the acts opening and closing with a character framed in a doorway this creates a kind of symmetry. “The door slowly opens and the inspector appears” and “We hear the front door”.
Throughout the play the inspector seems to know a lot more than the average person. As the genre is a “whodunit” we get the impression as an audience that throughout the play the inspector knows the answers to the questions he asks. Sheila begins to discover this and she tells Gerald “Why – you fool – he knows. Of course he knows.” We are told that the inspector isn’t a large man but he seems to take over everything on the stage. He doesn’t seem to be scared of anything or anyone and he has a way of making people feel small and knocking down their defences for example Sheila says, “It’s no use, Gerald you’re wasting time”.
The fact that the Birlings are rich seems to make it easier for him to control. The effect of their status and power means they have no knowledge of being controlled only of being in control. So when the inspector comes in they are neither prepared nor expecting “It may be something about a warrant.” Mr. Birling has been Mayor twice, he is a magistrate and he sees himself as a pillar of his community “I gather there’s a very good chance of a knighthood”. The inspector doesn’t treat Mr. Birling with the kind of deference he is used to, this shocks Mr. Birling into making confessions about the suicide of Eva Smith.
Mrs. Birling seems to be even more up market than her husband. We can tell this because in the script she is meant to have an RP accent. At the Royal national Theatre An Inspector Calls production Mrs. Birling was waited on all the time. When she came out of her house Edna put out a red carpet and gave her a chair to sit on. Although the Birling family are not particularly unintelligent when the play comes to an end they look compared to the inspector extremely unintelligent. Inspector Goole turns out to have fooled them with an extreme cleverness, which shows a huge difference between him and the Birling family.
The inspector has a way of treating the family as though they are all guilty. Although he himself has a way of withholding information he finds it easy to get information out of other people. All the time we are led to believe that he is organized and focus especially as he says “One person and one line of enquiry at a time” this shows he likes to work in an orderly way and can concentrate on one thing at a time.
Without saying or doing much the Inspector can make the Birlings confess to things they would never have confessed to otherwise and things they are ashamed of. First of all the inspector makes Mr. Birling confess that he dismissed Eva Smith from her job after she confronted him along with other workers and asked for a rise in wages and then went on strike, “She was one of my employees and then I discharged her”. We learn that she was a good spokesperson, she was ambitious, strong willed, courageous and confident. The inspector makes Mr. Birling guilty (even though he doesn’t show this guilt) by conveying subtly that Eva becomes an economic victim because of a class system that robbed workers of the power to have a voice, “I refused of course”.