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Our English Literature pupils in Years 9, 10 and 11 were blown away with an abridged production of the play ‘An Inspector Calls’ by J.B.Priestley, performed on site by a group of professional actors from the Manchester Actors Company.
The Manchester Actors Company is well known for its energetic, vigorous, physical theatre performances, performed in Primary and Secondary Schools and colleges by some of the UK’s hottest young stage talent. The play forms part of the GCSE syllabus, so our highly creative English faculty organised the visit. Abigail Kinsella in Year 10 writes an account of the afternoon:
“The company consisted of only four actors, who needed to portray six characters and a narrator. Therefore, they used props and costume items to represent the characters they were playing. One of the actors played Mr Birling, one played Mrs Birling and Sheila, one played Gerald and Eric, and the final actor played the Inspector and the narrator. The actor playing the two women began as Sheila, wearing a plain black dress, and when she became Mrs Birling, wore a jacket and began to use a walking stick. Equally, when the actor playing Gerald became Eric, he wore a black t-shirt as opposed to the dress shirt he had been wearing. The actor playing the Inspector removed his jacket when he began to narrate. This method of distinguishing the characters made the performance clear and cohesive.
“The ‘backstage’ of the production was in fact, onstage, represented by four chairs at upstage left and right. This was where the props and costume items were kept, in plain view of the audience. It was also where the actors would enter from, so they were onstage throughout the performance. This made the actors very exposed, and also meant that they had no time to break character or relax. It was a relentless and abstract form of theatre, which paid off very well to create a memorable piece.
“Unlike other interpretations of ‘An Inspector Calls,’ this production had a timeless feel. The actors wore all black, as opposed to the elaborate costumes of the time. There was no mention of the timeframe (the play was originally set in 1912) and the props were simple rather than representing any particular era. They also used music from outside of the timeframe and spoke in dialects not usually associated with that point in time. These elements were successful in emphasising that the message of social responsibility within the play is one applicable to all eras, and one that we can never allow ourselves to forget.
“As the cast was limited, the director had to be selective about which characters could interact with whom, and which lines needed to be included. Due to these restrictions, what the characters represented really shone through; for example, Mr and Mrs Birling did not need to be in the same room, as they both represent the older generation that is reluctant to change. This really emphasised the central themes and messages of the play.
“After the performance, the actors remained in role, and a question and answer session began. It was interesting to hear other interpretations of the characters, which often differed greatly from those of the audience. For example, the actor playing the Inspector had the opinion that the Inspector was ‘making it up as he went along,’ which not many of the audience had considered before.
“It was a vibrant and enjoyable production, which really helped in understanding the play and its themes and messages. It truly got everyone thinking about the way they see the characters, and how differently it can be interpreted depending on which aspects you focus on.”