by Liza Tom
As part of Stagecoach 2012, the IIT-M Dramatics Club staged a rendition of An Inspector Calls at CLT, on the 10th and 11th of November, at 6pm. J. B. Priestley’s classic play is the perfect prototype of the ‘drawing-room’ plays of the early 20th century. From its start to the splendid dénouement, the play hooks you with its dialogue, which was powered by some brilliant performances from the cast’s side.
An Inspector Calls is an insightful, stinging commentary on the hypocrisies and shallowness of the Edwardian society of the pre-World War era. It remains to-date, an acute observation of the middle-class family, its prejudices and pretentions to ‘respectability’. The play is set in the town of Brumley, in the year of 1912. This was a period of incredible revolutions in the fields of science and technology, and capitalism and consumerism were at its peak, as is evident in the telling reference to the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic, which would set sail a week from when the play was set.
The first scene is that of a family, the Birlings, at dinner. Mr. Birling (impressively played by Dheeraj Chowdary), the patriarch, is easily the most prominent character (read: the one with the loudest and most number of lines). In his own words, he is a “hard-headed practical man of business’’, a self-made man, with strong and unchanging opinions. His wife is Sybil Birling (enacted by Krupa Varghese, an excellent depiction; she manages well to capture the contempt and hauteur required of the role), is a snobbish, authoritative woman of high social standing, and a member of the Brumley Women’s Christian Organisation. Their son, played Vedant Nair, is the typical ‘young man of wild spirits’ who drinks too much, etc., etc., but he proves to be surprisingly perceptive and sympathetic, especially toward the end of the play. In the role of his bubbly, thoughtless, sister Sheila Birling was Kavya Srinivasan. Gerald Croft, Sheila’s fiancé, is a pompous, conservative member of the aristocracy; Suraj Shankar took on this role. The play was directed by Sushmita Gopalan and live background score was provided by Vidya Muthukumar. The music was an apt, yet subtle, accompaniment to what was going on in the play.
The gentlemen remain in the dining-room, drinking their port and Mr. Birling deems this the right time to air his views on the youth of the day. He is interrupted in his monologue by the maid, Edna (Jueeli More in a small role), who announces that there is a visitor, the Inspector Goole. Thus enters the Inspector, the pivot around which the drama revolves. Ashwin ‘More’ Pananjady, with his deadpan expression and unemotional diction, played this character admirably.
Through him, the audience learns that a girl has been brought to the infirmary and that she had died by consuming ‘strong disinfectant’. The men are initially baffled as to how Mr. Birling has anything to do what was a clear case of suicide. But as the play progresses, you begin to see how each member of the family and Mr. Croft effectively led to the girl’s taking such an extreme step. The Inspector’s interrogation is chilling in how dispassionate it is and soon, the facade of respectability and morality fades to reveal how they, in their numerous ways, contributed to the faceless Eva Smith’s suicide.
Now, the play is supposed to be, among others, an exploration, of the clash between capitalism and socialism. Other interpretations are along the same serious and profound lines. For some reason beyond the powers of my comprehension though, the audience found some of the most reflective bits of the play hilarious. Well. I suppose the fact that everyone enjoyed it, regardless of why, is the important thing. Absolutely everyone loved the completely unexpected and superb climax, though. Anyone who’s watched Titanic several times, would realize that the the costumes were not exactly 1912, but certain concessions have to be made for a student-run production, I suppose. The props and lights, however, complemented the play.