The entrance to the theatre was very formal. There were primary indicators before you even got into the theatre for example outside there were posters of some of the actors in the play. These made me look forward to what we were going to see and it also made me wonder how each different pose fitted into the play. There was also an extract from a review written by the ‘Daily Mail’, which created a sense of anticipation for the audience. Once you entered the theatre the entrance was very formal. There were more primary indicators such as leaflets and there were also programs on sale.
The entrance to the performing space was very formal. All the audience had numbered seats and were directed to their seats by stewards. The seating was raked and the proscenium arch stage was raised above the level of the audience. This seating pattern effects the relationship between the actors and the audience. This seating arrangement makes the performance more formal than it would be if the audience and performers were closer, on the same level. There was also a safety curtain, which was later raised to show another curtain, which was very plush and elegant.
All this added to the very formal entrance. You couldn’t see any props or stage set because of the curtains but you could see the stage, which was very curious. It was wooden panels that were pulled up and dipped down and looked out of place. There was also a telephone box on the side of the stage, which had broken dirty glass windows. These focal points created interest for the audience so there was something to look at before the performance began to create interest and add to the anticipation. The formality was broken slightly when a young boy came on stage before the house lights had been dimmed.
Two other children came on stage and they proceeded to mess about and play without saying anything which, had the audience very intrigued as we wanted to know what they were doing. When the curtain rose to stage set was incredibly realistic set. There was a house which was raised about the ground level. Inside you could see people moving and also hear them. This added another layer of anticipation. The fact that the house was raised about ground level was very symbolic. It was saying that the inhabitants of the house were ‘above’ common people, they were too good to mix with that type of person.
This idea was reinforced when Sheila Birling, (The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Birling the owners of the house) was asked to go down and talk to the inspector who was standing on the ground. Although he was standing literally right in front of the steps that she has to climb down to get down to his level, she looked lost and shocked at where she was. It was like she had never been there before and she had led a very sheltered life. The house actually looked very like a dolls house because it was on a small scale and the people looked out of proportion in it.
This added to the fact that people didn’t seem to be real and didn’t seem to have real emotions. There was also equipment which managed to recreate the elements indoors and the opening scene was wet and misty, which was pathetic fallacy and put the audience in the right mood for what they were going to see. This really created atmosphere and got the audience involved right from the start. It really made you feel like you were part of the performance. Music was used to great effect throughout the performance. A siren was used and then on top was some harsh chords or some sort of stringing instrument like a violin.
These were such piercing sounds it made the audience feel quite uncomfortable. It definitely added tension to what was happening on the stage. While the audience is still entering the performance space there is a rumbling noise and then a distant siren sound. At first I thought that this was the underground going underneath the theatre and a passing ambulance or police car but later on in the play you find out that it was all part of the play. This added to the audience perception and it make them excited and they wanted to know what was going to happen next.
The characters all had realistic costume. It looked like it was from the period that the play was set in, 1910, which made what was happening on stage more believable. Costume was used to great effect in the performance. The characters were defined well by their costumes so you could tell almost straight away what their attitude and personality was like. For instance Mrs. Birling wore a bustling, red, stiff, decorative dress accompanied by lots of jewelry which made the audience think that she was wealthy and quite pompous.
Sheila Birling (The daughter) wore a plainer, but still very attractive white dress from the period. She wore less jewelry than her mother. This made it seem like she thought herself above people. This point was shown when she was asked to go down to ground level and once she had been told of what she had done to the young girl on which the story is based, she tried to run away and not take responsibility. When she did this she tripped and fell into a puddle and got her dress dirty. This showed that she had clouded her false front and wasn’t the person that she tried to pretend to be.
As the play progressed, her character underwent major changes in attitude and personality. She changed from being an arrogant spoilt little girl into being a down to earth young lady who had a larger awareness of what was going on around her and of how her actions effected people and situations. Her costume reflected this by the fact that she removed her big flowing dress and wore only her under-dress from the period. This was showing symbolically that she has gotten rid of her false front and appearance and was coming to the truth and had gone through a time of self-discovery.
The inspector also wore accurate period costume. He was fully dressed with coat, hat, jacket and waistcoat. As the story developed, every time he uncovered another layer to the plot he removed a layer of clothing. The use of conventions was excellent in this performance. When the inspector was talking to the Birling family and friends he looked straight out into the audience rather than facing them. This was a type of direct address that included the audience well and made then feel part of the proceedings.
Hot seating was another convention that was used to great effect, especially when Sheila Birling had been confronted and she was answering his questions and telling how she had felt and what had happened. She also used direct address as she turned to the audience and tried to get sympathy, she wanted us to understand why it had happened. Tableau was used to get across a very striking image at the end. The Birling’s house had been inhabited by all the ‘common’ people which symbolized them getting justice. Just before the play ended there was a tableau of the ‘common’ people starring out into the audience.
This was a really hard-hitting image. Defining space was also used, there was a definite segregation between the ‘common’ area and the ‘posh’ area. The characters also used laughing as a means to cover up their true feeling. Every time they became unsure about something or didn’t know how to react they started laughing. They laughed in such a fake way, which reflected their characters for example, Mr. Birling had a very loud, forced laugh, while Sheila had a little giggly laugh. One actor that I though did really well in their part was the actor who performed the part of Sheila.
Her character went through a big change and she managed to show this transition gently but unmistakably. She used body language a lot, while a first she walked tall and carried herself and looked really out of place on the ground, towards the end she had changed into a more submissive role. She had gained knowledge by the end and she had an understanding of what was happening. She pleaded with the other characters to try to get them to admit what they had done and accept the consequences but they didn’t seem to notice this and she was so frustrated which was shown in her voice and also in her action.
Her voice became more strained and here actions stiff when she was talking to her family. She used her body as a tool to get across her feelings. She turned her back on her family and moved closer to the inspector, for the duration of the play she stayed on the other side of the play to her family. This enforced the difference between her and her family. In my opinion the play was executed to a very high standard. The characterization of the play was excellent and issues had been developed really well within the performance.