An Inspector Calls

What do we learn about each of the characters on stage in the opening stage directions? How might the actors show that the characters are pleased with themselves?

Act one

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First of all we learn that the family members are all relatively very rich, because the description of the house is expensive and 'heavily comfortable, as well as being directly informed that the head of the family is a 'prosperous manufacturer'. Birling is described as being a 'heavy-looking', implying that he is somewhat resting on his laurels and is the product of an easy lifestyle. He is also described as being 'rather portentous', which is another element which would come heavily from his lifestyle and being used to being right and the boss of his world, however his 'fairly easy manners' show that, at least with societal equals or superiors, he is friendly and jovial. The act that he has 'provincial speech' shows that despite being high in social standing, he is not from that background and has probably gained that both from his business and the marriage to his wife who is his 'social superior', making him 'new money'. And the fact that he's 'in his middle fifties' shows that within Priestley's microcosm of society, he represents the old generation, stuck in their ways and not open to new ways of thinking. Mrs Birling is described as 'rather cold', which gives us an idea about her character and her empathies, and we know that she married below her to her husband. Sheila is described as 'rather pleased with life' and 'excited' which immediately gives the impression of youth and innocence, and moreover much more likeable to the audience. Her being young and 'pretty' only supports that impression and makes her appear a more appealing. Gerald's description informs us that he's 'well-bred', so high in social standing and probably classed as 'old money'. That he's a 'man-about-town' tells us that he has had various relations with girls, Sheila not being his first, and for this time period that was normal. Him being 'attractive', 'easy' and 'manly', coupled with his high social status makes him a very desirable young man to be coupled with. And finally Eric, being in his early twenties is seen as comparatively young to the diners other than Sheila. Being 'not quite at ease' gives the audience the impression that he's not entirely sure of who he is yet, and so far hasn't had much experience with life and doesn't have much responsibility. His uneasiness also means the audience can empathise for him and makes him in a sense more likeable. The actors can show that they are pleased with themselves by simply adjusting their facial expressions and body language accordingly to appear relaxed and content: smiling; having a relaxed posture; and delivering their lines in a tone and emphasis that shows their satisfaction.