Two by J.B.Priestley: AN INSPECTOR CALLS and DANGEROUS CORNER

AN INSPECTOR CALLS by J.B. Priestley

J B Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls is a morality play disguised as a detective thriller. The morality play is a very old theatrical form, going back to the medieval period, which sought to instruct audiences about virtue and evil. Priestley’s play revolves around a central mystery, the death of a young woman, but whereas a traditional detective story involves the narrowing down of suspects from several to one, An Inspector Calls inverts this process as, one by one, nearly all the characters in the play are found to be guilty. In this way, Priestley makes his larger point that society is guilty of neglecting and abusing its most vulnerable members. A just society, he states through his mysterious Inspector, is one that respects and exercises social responsibility.


First performed at the Kamerny and Leningrad Theatre Company of Moscow in August 1945. London premiere by the Old Vic at the New Theatre in October 1946. New York premiere at the Booth Theatre in October 1947


All three acts, which are continuous, take place in the dining-room of the prosperous Birling family in Brumley, an industrial city in the North Midlands of England. It is the late evening of April 14, 1912.


The glitter of the rank, wealth and fashion of the English Edwardians brings the myth of the Lost Golden Age into the Twentieth Century. The upper and middle classes constitute less than fifteen percent of the population, but consume two-thirds of the national income. The 39 million members of the working class exist on the remaining third.

ActorsNET production

Director: Jim Cordingley
June 2 - 18, 2017 


Cast in order of appearance:

GEORGE HARTPENCE as Arthur Birling

HANA CHRISTENSEN as Edna, the maid

TIM SWAIN as Gerald Croft

TAMMY GOLDBERG as Sheila Birling

CAROL THOMPSON as Sybil Birling

TOM SMITH as Eric Birling

and

MORT PATERSON as Inspector Goole

Shakespeare`70 production

at the Don Evans Black Box Theater @ TCNJ

directed by Carol Thompson

assistant director - George Hartpence

September 21 - 30, 2006


Cast in order of appearance:

BRIAN BARA as Arthur Birling

GLEN CALHOUN as Gerald Croft

CAT MILLER as Sheila Birling

CATHERINE ROWE as Sybil Birling

SUSAN BLAIR as Edna

AARON WEXLER as Eric Birling

and

GEORGE HARTPENCE as Inspector Goole

AN INSPECTOR CALLS at ActorsNET

Dramatis Personae

Directed by Jim Cordingley

Assistant Director - Joanne Cordingley

Stage Manager - Hana Christenson

Lighting by Andrena Wishnie

Sound Design - George Hartpence

Set Design - George Hartpence and Jim Cordingley

Costume Design - Ruth Schanbacher


Cast in order of appearance:

George Hartpence as Arthur Birling

Hana Christenson as Edna, the maid

Tim Swain as Gerald Croft

Tammy Goldberg as Sheila Birling

Carol Thompson as Sybil Birling

Tom Smith as Eric Birling

and

Mort Paterson as Inspector Goole

Critical Praise

Anthony Stoeckert writes for the TimeOff entertainment section of the Princeton Packet:


"An lnspector Calls" spends a lot of time with the title character asking questions of the other characters. This typically isn’t my favorite format for a play, but that may be because I had never seen it done with the tension and drama that ActorsNET of Bucks County brings to its stellar production of J.B. Priestley's 1945 play.


Hartpence and Thompson do fine work as the parents.  Hartpence plays Arthur with a sense of entitlement, even a touch of superiority, but he remains likable, and comes off as a man trying to do best by his family.  Thompson is formal, nearly royal, as Sybil, but the veneer is broken when Sybil's role in the death is revealed.

High Drama in the Drawing Room

“Be yourself is about the worst advice you can give to some people.” J.B. Priestley 

 

“During the years between the turn of the century and the First World War the glitter of rank, wealth and fashion was not confined to England…  But it was the English Edwardians who occupied and decorated the central position and did most to bring the myth of the Lost Golden Age into the twentieth century.” JB Priestley – The Edwardians


“The Edwardian age was probably the last period in history when the fortunate thought they could give pleasure to others by displaying their good fortune before them.” James Laver (Edwardian Promenade, 1958)


“Property is the old-fashioned way of thinking of a country as a thing, and a collection of things in that thing, all owned by certain people and constituting property; instead of thinking of a country as the home of a living society, and considering the welfare of that society, with the community itself as the first test.”  J.B. Priestley - 1940

see the full review of the ActorsNET production

STAGE REVIEW_ 'An Inspector Calls' at A... _ Theater Reviews _ centraljersey (pdf)

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AN INSPECTOR CALLS for Shakespeare`70

Dramatis Personae

Production Staff

Director - Carol Thompson

Assistant Director - George Hartpence

Producer - Kathy Garofano

Stage Manager - Kathy Garofano

Assistant Stage Manager - Susan Blair

Production Designer/Technical Director - Dale Simon

Dialect Coach - Mort Paterson

Box Office Manager - Susan Tapper

Business Manager - Tom Curbishley

Publicity - Dani Kennedy

Print & Electronic Publishing - Tracy Hawkins


 

Cast in order of appearance:

BRIAN BARA as Arthur Birling

GLEN CALHOUN as Gerald Croft

CAT MILLER as Sheila Birling

CATHERINE ROWE as Sybil Birling

SUSAN BLAIR as Edna

AARON WEXLER as Eric Birling

and

GEORGE HARTPENCE as Inspector Goole

Critical Praise

Anita Donovan writes for the Times of Trenton:

September 26, 2006


With “An Inspector Calls,” Shakespeare`70 lives up to its reputation for fine classical theater and also does us a service by bringing Priestley’s thought-provoking work to our attention.


Director Carol Thompson leads an experienced cast that is well up to the subtle demands of the script and comfortable in the period of the piece.


George Hartpence leads the cast as Inspector Goole, with a characterization that smoothly balances reality and fantasy.


…Cat Miller turns in a dazzling performance full of nuance.

Critical Praise

Stuart Duncan writes for The Princeton Packet TimeOff entertainment section:

September 27, 2006


"J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls, staged by Shakespeare '70 at The College of New Jersey, is as powerful as any new drama you have seen in years."


"Shakespeare '70 has some wonderful actors, directed by Carol Thompson.  George Hartpence is a stunning Inspector Goole, armed with only a small notebook and a Midlands accent.  Brian Bara is superb as Arthur Birling, capitalistic conservatism at the ready, oozing out of every pore.  Aaron Wexler is strong as the son, Eric. ... Catherine Rowe battles defensively as the mother. Cat Miller has become an actress of real stature, beautiful and graceful."

Director's Notes by Carol Thompson

John Boynton Priestley (1894-1984) was a patriotic socialist whose love for his country could appear nostalgic, but who was passionately convinced of the need for social change to benefit the poor. During the Second World War, his weekly radio broadcasts were highly influential and expressed his faith in the ordinary people of Britain.


An Inspector Calls is concerned with themes of power, morality, and social responsibility. Searingly relevant in the 21st century, it is firmly rooted in the context of war and upheaval in the 20th: Priestley wrote the play in the last year of the Second World War, but it is set in 1912 just prior to the First World War. It was first performed by the Kamerny and Leningrad Theatre Company of Moscow in August 1945becauseof the lack of availability of a suitable theater in London.It then came to London only a year later, where it was staged by the Old Vic. The opening performance in Moscow was on the same day as the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. This coincidence highlighted the dismay that Priestley, profoundly affected by his experiences of the First World War, felt at seeing such horrors repeated.


The need for society to change is a central theme of An Inspector Calls. In it, Priestley emphasizes the need for future generations to act and prevent further bloodshed. At the same time, however, he keeps the action of the play at an intensely personal level.As the characters' secrets are revealed, the crumbling of society is reflected in the disintegration of this seemingly happy family and we are challenged to examine our own consciences.


The play opens in the early spring of 1912.  Simple calculations based on the comments of Mr. Birling place the date as the evening of April 14, 1912. History buffs will note that the Titanic struck an iceberg en-route to New York at just before midnight on April 14th and sank a few hours later in the early morning hours of April 15th. 


I wish to thank Shakespeare`70 for this opportunity to direct such a powerful piece of theater, Kathy Garofano for her invaluable assistance and guidance as producer and stage manager, Dale Simon for his fantastic set design, Linc Konkle for his support and faith in this project, George Hartpence for his partnership and vision (on and off stage), my wonderful cast and crew, and all who helped make this production possible.

full reviews of Shakespeare`70's AN INSPECTOR CALLS

AIC Trenton Times review 092606 (pdf)

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An Inspector Calls Packet review_09272006 (pdf)

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DANGEROUS CORNER by J.B. Priestley

George Hartpence as Charles Stanton

directed by Robert A. Norman and Aaron Wexler

presented by Langhorne Players

August 21 through September 12, 2009

stage managed by Charles Gorman

Lighting Design - Noah Norman

Sound Design - John Weber

Light and Sound Operator - Heather MacHenry


with

  

Bernard DiCassimirro as Robert Caplan

Carol Thompson as Freda Caplan

George Hartpence as Charles Stanton

Cat Miller as Olwen Peel

Jules Ferraro as Gordon Whitehouse

Jennifer Newby as Betty Whitehouse

Tami Feist as Miss Mockridge

Glory Board

Cast (in order clockwise starting on Her Majesty's right)

Tami Feist, Bernard DiCassimirro, Cat Miller, Carol Thompson, Jules Ferraro, Jen Newby and George Hartpence

"The Sleeping Dog" by Humphrey Stoat

Dangerous Corner

A play of psychological intrigue.

(above: George Hartpence - center - as Charles Stanton, Bernard DiCassimirro - right - as Robert Caplan & Jules Ferraro -left - as Gordon Whitehouse)


In J. B. Priestley's seventy-seven year-old realist play, Dangerous Corner, a character's reference to a single object (a cigarette box) sets off a seemingly endless number of associations for the six characters at Freda and Robert Caplan’s country home.Those present are stymied by a possible link between the death of one of their group and a theft at the host's publishing firm. The cigarette box; as well as its former owner, the recent suicide victim Martin Caplan; provide the central frame of reference through which each of the characters comes to (re)define his/her relationship to the others. The value of an object, finally, is relative; the context within which the object exists between people and the kinds of relationships it serves to define become the contested areas of meaning and intimacy. And it is dead Martin who controls the onstage action through his absence.


Post-dinner conversation in the Caplan’s country house proves to be most revealing: the hostess Freda confesses love for her dead brother-in-law Martin (and her gift to him of the cigarette box); Olwen admits her love for Freda's husband (and her boss) Robert; Robert confesses his love for Betty (his sister-in-law), only to find out that Betty is having an affair with Stanton (one of Robert's publishing partners); and not to be left behind, Gordon, Betty's husband, reveals his bisexuality and undying love for the deceased Martin. The unmasking of a whole history of lies that exists among the group of adults is prompted by the gradual unraveling of the history of Martin's cigarette box. No character is without secrets in the play and a passionate commitment to protect those secrets since only through lies is there hope that one's fantasies can be realized. But the revelers' ongoing drinking and subsequently loosened tongues free them to confess.


Time, history, and memory all intertwined with desire, repulsion, deception, and hypocrisy quickly surface as features within Priestley's play that define his characters' relationships, their actions, and their world.


"I think telling the truth about as healthy as skidding round a corner at sixty", remarks Stanton, whose image captures the dangers; the untidy messes; that surface in private and public lives when the games of infatuation, sex, and love collide. Priestley’s language is marked by constant starts and jolts, twists and turns. S entences become roadways that lead characters' thoughts down routes that can clarify, confuse, complete, or clash with one another. More often than not, one's sentences are halted by self-inflicted "stop signs," depending upon whether lies are to be elaborated upon or truths abruptly squelched. Priestley masterfully paces the actors' dialogue to heighten, through language usage and delivery, the circuitous nature of the characters' shifting relationships to one another, their desire for safe passage, free from conflict and responsibility, when communicating (however evasively) with others.


Adapted from Robert Vorlicky, New York University, for the David Mamet Society

Synopsis

Dangerous Corner was J B Priestley's first solo play, opening at the Lyric Theatre, London on 17 May, 1932. It is set in a drawing room. Dinner is over and four women in evening dress are listening to the end of a radio play, in which a gun is fired, a woman screams and there is the sound of a woman sobbing. A voice announces that they have just been listening to The Sleeping Dog by Humphrey Stoat. The women begin to discuss the play and then move on to the suicide of the brother-in-law of one of the women. Their men folk then join them. It is a cozy, seemingly relaxed group. The conversation continues. Then one of the women notices a cigarette box in the room and makes a fatal remark, fatal because it triggers a whole sequence of shocking revelations about the characters and their relationships with each other and with the dead man. They are shown to have turned a dangerous corner which has led to the truth - the sleeping dog - coming out. The action progresses to a climax in which, as in the radio play, a gun is fired, a woman screams and the sound of sobbing is heard. We then return to the beginning of the play itself complete with the end of the radio play. The conversational changes are substantially as before. The same character as before notices the cigarette box. But this time the fatal remark is not made, the sleeping dog has been left undisturbed. Dance music is heard on the radio. Gaiety reigns among the small group of people with all their secrets unrevealed.


This first of Priestley's so-called Time plays (others being Time and the Conways and I Have Been Here Before) may be no more than a clever box of theatrical tricks - Priestley himself thought so - but as an ensemble piece it still packs a powerful dramatic punch, with some depth in the characterization. Interestingly, there are references to drug addiction, bisexuality and pornography which, had the context not been so conventional, would have been quite startling for the play's period.

J. B. Priestley's Time Plays

The British author J. B. Priestley wrote a number of dramas during the 1930s and 40s, which have come to be known as his Time Plays. They are so called because each constructs its plot around a particular concept of time. In the plays, various theories of time become a central theatrical device of the play, the characters' lives being affected by how they react to the unusual temporal landscape they encounter. 


The Time Plays comprise:

  • Dangerous Corner (1932), in which exposure of a group of characters' dark secrets is wiped out when the play returns to the beginning at the fall of the curtain;
  • Time and the Conways (1937), which explores J. W. Dunne's theory of simultaneous time expounded in the book An Experiment with Time;
  • I Have Been Here Before, which is inspired by P. D. Ouspensky's theory of eternal recurrence from A New Model of the Universe
  • Johnson Over Jordan, in which a man encounters a series of trials in the afterlife; 
  • Music at Night, given a dreamlike setting outside of passing time (as in dreams); 
  • The Long Mirror, in which a woman artist has a curiously intimate relationship with a musician she has never met but has shared his life for five years in the spirit finally meet at a Welsh hotel;
  • An Inspector Calls (USSR 1945, UK 1946), the most famous of them, in which a family undergoes a police investigation into a suicide which they later discover has not happened yet. A film dramatization was produced by the BBC and broadcast on 13 September 2015.

Of all the theories of time employed in the plays, Priestley professed to take only one seriously: that of J. W. Dunne as expounded in his book An Experiment with Time. However, his acceptance of the theory is qualified. Dunne's theory involved an infinite regress of time dimensions and levels of the self and Priestley rejected more than the first few time dimensions, which were sufficient to explain both the passage of time and precognition. 

J. B. Priestley

About the Playwright

Called by some the last "sage" of English literature, J. B. Priestley (1894-1984) had a career which spanned more than 60 years and included authoring novels, essays, plays, and screenplays.


John Boynton Priestley was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, in the North of England on September 13, 1894, the son of Jonathan Priestley, a schoolmaster. His early education was at the Bradford School, but this career was interrupted, as happened to many of his contemporaries, by service in World War I. He served with both the Duke of Wellington's and the Devon regiments from 1914 to 1919. After the war he matriculated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he studied history and political science as well as English literature. Already writing and publishing as an undergraduate, he was able to pay some of his university bills by selling articles to provincial and London newspapers. In 1922 he settled in London, rapidly establishing a reputation as essayist, critic, and novelist.


From his earliest writings, Priestley may be described as a comic rationalist. The contradictions and absurdities of the human situation, he wrote, could best be borne by a stance of ironic detachment.

Priestley achieved great popularity as a novelist through two works centering on the comic interplay of people engaged in a common calling. The Good Companions (1929) is about the joys and sorrows of the members of a repertory company in the north of England. It was a success in the United States as well as in England. The following year Angel Pavement appeared, whose characters worked in a small London business firm. Other notable and popular novels followed: They Walk in the City (1936), The Doomsday Men(1938), Let the People Sing (1939), and Festival at Farbridge (1951). All of these are fairly long novels, each with a lively balance between memorable, accurately-observed character and meticulously-crafted, suspenseful plot, featuring often rogueish heroes on the move—another recrudescence of the English picaresque in a tradition going back to the 1740s, beginning with Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews. A strain of sentimentality is often present, but it is usually corrected by the "silvery laughter" of Priestley's comic spirit. Other novels of this author combine autobiographical detail with a social criticism less bitter than Priestley's 1930s contemporary George Orwell. Examples of this type include English Journey (1934), Midnight on the Desert (1937), and Rain Upon Godshill (1939).


One aspect of all of Priestley's fiction is its theatricality—from the beginning he had a fine flair for dialogue; in fact, soon after its success as a novel he adapted The Good Companions into a play (1931, with E. Knoblock). The next year saw the debut of Priestley as a bonafide dramatist with Dangerous Corner (1932); it was a resounding success and was performed all over the world. This acclaim encouraged the author to organize his own company, for which he wrote plays of consistently high quality. Some were comedies, such as Laburnum Grove (1933) and When We Are Married (1938). As a dramatist Priestley was influenced by the theories of time and recurrence propounded by the philosopher J. W. Dunne (1875-1949), especially as developed in Experiment with Time and The Serial Universe. Dunne's concepts are dramatized in Priestley's serious "metaphysical" plays, such as Time and the Conways (1937), I Have Been There Before (1938), and Johnson over Jordan (1939).


During the Second World War Priestley became the presenter of Postscripts, a BBC Radio radio program that followed the nine o'clock news on Sunday evenings. Starting on 5th June 1940, Priestley built up such a following that after a few months it was estimated that around 40 per cent of the adult population in Britain was listening to the program.


Some members of the Conservative Party complained about Priestley expressing left-wing views on his radio program. As a result Priestley made his last talk on 20th October 1940. These were later published in book form as Britain Speaks (1940).


Priestley and a group of friends now established the 1941 Committee. One of its members, Tom Hopkinson, later claimed that the motive force was the belief that if the Second World War was to be won "a much more coordinated effort would be needed, with stricter planning of the economy and greater use of scientific know-how, particularly in the field of war production."


In December 1941 the committee published a report that called for public control of the railways, mines and docks and a national wages policy.A further report in May 1942 argued for works councils and the publication of "post-war plans for the provision of full and free education, employment and a civilized standard of living for everyone."


On 26th July 1941 Priestley and other members of the 1941 Committee established the socialist Common Wealth Party. The party advocated the three principles of Common Ownership, Vital Democracy and Morality in Politics. The party favored public ownership of land.The Common Wealth Party was dissolved in 1945 and most members joined the Labour Party.


After World War II, J. B. Priestley took an active role in the international cultural community. He was a United Kingdom delegate to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conferences in 1946 and 1947. He was chairman of theater conferences in Paris in 1947 and in Prague the following year. In 1949 he served as president of the International Theatre Institute. Back home he was chosen chairman of the British Theatre Conference (1948) and also served as a member of the National Theatre Board (1966-1967). In 1973, then nearly 80 years of age, he served his home city of Bradford as Freeman.


Priestley continued to write on politics and literature. He wrote an article for the New Statesman entitled Russia, the Atom and the West, where he attacked the decision by Aneurin Bevan to abandon his policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament (2nd November, 1957). The article resulted in a large number of people writing letters to the journal supporting Priestley's views.Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman, organized a meeting of people inspired by Priestley and as result they formed the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).


To Priestley's assets of longevity and versatility we may add flexibility—his adapting of the printed word to newer media of communication during and after World War II.During the war he became even more well known than before through his talks on radio; because of his understanding of and sympathy for the average citizen he was able to make a direct personal appeal using this medium. His film credits include screenplays for The Foreman Went to France (1942) and Last Holiday (1956).Back in the world of theater, he helped the novelist Iris Murdoch translate her hit novel A Severed Head into a successful play (1963).


Priestley had a son and four daughters through earlier marriages; in 1953 he became part of a famous husband-wife literary team when he married the archeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes.She had also worked for UNESCO and in the film industry. Together they wrote the play Dragon's Mouth (1952) and Journey Down a Rainbow (1955).A stay in New Zealand enabled him to write the travel piece A Visit to New Zealand (1974). Priestley's autobiographies, Margin Released (1962) and Instead of the Trees (1977), appeared in later years.


Still more evidence of this writer's versatility includes the libretto for an opera, The Olympians (1948); Delight, a book of essays (1949); The Art of the Dramatist, criticism (1957); and The Edwardians, social history (1970).


J. B. Priestley died quietly at his home in Stratford-on-Avon on August 14, 1984.