An Inspector Calls

As eerie bomb sirens wail, and artificial fog crawls off the warped, wooden stage--completely enveloping the unsuspecting audience--it’s hard not to feel instantly transported into a desolate, shambled world. But Stephen Daldry’s West End revival of J B Priestley’s 1945 play, “An Inspector Calls”, does just that. From the moment Stephen Warbeck’s chilling Hitchcockian score begins, and the haunting, almost post-apocalyptic setting, designed by Ian MacNeil, is revealed—which fuses together a 1940s, bomb-blasted landscape with a 1912 oversized dollhouse on stilts—it is clear that this production is set outside of one single time frame.

Daldry, best known for directing award-winning hits such as “Billy Elliot” and “The Hours”, has given this revival a uniquely postmodern twist that serves as a vitriolic commentary on society.

Young street urchins scour the rain-slicked, littered streets outside of the Birling household for scraps of food, establishing that this family represents a typical, individually minded, industrialist, Edwardian household.

An enigmatic man, dressed in an unassuming trench coat and tilted hat, lingers outside of the bizarre-looking household. Handing a fresh orange to a young boy in ragged clothing, he becomes the symbolic representation of aspects of humanity that the Birlings have long forgotten—or perhaps never knew in the first place.

The Mysterious Inspector Goole The mysterious man is revealed by Edna, the elderly parlour maid, to be Police Inspector Goole, brilliantly portrayed by Nicholas Woodeson. When he calls at the house of the affluent Birling family, interrupting a dinner party celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila to the successful Gerald Croft, the family’s lives are altered in a completely unexpected way.

One by one, the Inspector interrogates the members of the Birling household as part of an investigation of the apparent suicide of a young, working-class woman. Not one to bite his tongue, Inspector Goole reveals the deepest and darkest secrets and actions of each member of the family that led to the girl’s ultimate demise.

By collectively failing on the basic essence of humanity and compassion—from Mr. Birling firing the young woman for demanding a raise, to Gerald Croft having an illicit affair with her—the family members are all accused of contributing to the young woman’s death by the vehement Inspector Goole.

A Goole-ish Message

Perhaps even more vehement than Inspector Goole is the overall message of the play—a seething critique of individualism--and the lack of subtly in its delivery. Although slightly overacted at times, the ensemble manages to effectively capture the selfish essence of the industrialist stereotypes.

Most resistant to accepting an ounce of responsibility and shattering the ostentatious illusion is the immaculately put-together Mrs. Birling—dripping with jewels and a perfectly coiffed, fiery red bouffant hairdo—portrayed by Sandra Duncan.

In contrast, Marianne Oldham, portraying the Birling’s young, egotistical daughter, Sheila, is most affected by the Inspector’s interrogation. Sick and tired of putting on airs, she becomes the chief voice of reason among the clan, encouraging the others to break out of their elitist facades and reveal the truth to Inspector Goole—and, most importantly, to themselves.

Guest Blogger: Robert Van West

As far as holidays go in the U.S, Thanksgiving is right up there with Christmas. Food, family, friends, more food, television specials, more food, passing out: basically, just like Christmas, but without a bearded, obese man handing out presents. This year was my first Thanksgiving away from home. However, a piece of home came to me in the form of my older brother, Robbie.

He took a few days off from his teaching program in Spain to spend some time with me in London.

Here are some of his thoughts on life and culture in London:

You came to visit me in London over two years ago. What was your perception of London then? Has it changed after this visit?

My first excursion to jolly-old London was marked by a subcultural curiosity fueled perceptions based on music and film.

I expected to encounter cockney gangsters, boisterous soccer hooligans, dirty punk rockers on the dole, ace face mods on scooters and suit clad Jamaican rude boys.

After that first visit, I realized that the subcultural glory of London’s past exists only in London’s past. The upper class international hipster elite have taken over the streets of London and gentrification has taken its toll.

At least there are still good old fashioned Victorian pubs.

My view of London has become more realistic. I’ve realized that the best thing this city has to offer is its Victorian pubs and free museums.

London is as globalized and gentrified as any big city in the west. Almost anything I would want to do in London, I could do in San Francisco, New York or LA.

What are some differences between where you live in Spain and life in London? London is modern, fast paced, expensive, global and multicultural – whereas rural Spain is rustic, slow paced, inexpensive and culturally homogenous.

Do you think London is one of the top cities in the world, in terms of cultural events going on? Definitely. London is up there with San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

Most everything that can be done in London, as far as cultural events go, can be done in any other big international city.

The “real” London is something that exists under the radar, and is something that most visitors, and even most Londoners, won’t be able to experience

Do you think there’s a greater appreciation for arts/music in London than in other big cities you’ve been to? Why or why not? This is a tough question. London is a hard working city and it is also a gentrified city.

A lot of mainstream Londoners listen to the same crap with the same feigned appreciation as other people from big cities.

London has a glorious musical past, but it hasn’t been able to recreate what it did in the 60s and 70s.If anything, it has used the imagery of those times in order to pull in more tourism.

How does the music scene in London compare to the scene in San Francisco? Barcelona? In Berlin? London’s music scene, because of its historical role in the music industry, has a lot more hype than a lot of other cities.

England is also a real small country, so a mediocre London band could get a lot bigger than a superior band from Liverpool, just because the media spreads things faster from London.

Any contemporary music I listen to is underground and independent, so to me it doesn’t matter where the band came from so long as they rock my trouser pants off.

What are the similarities and differences between how people our age behave/socialize in the U.S, Spain, and Germany? Generally (key word), Americans are more superficial when they socialize; Spaniards are louder and more animated; Germans like to talk a lot about intellectual mumbo-jumbo; and the English seem to fall somewhere between the Germans and Americans.

They enjoy having intellectual conversations with a few pints, but they also know how to get completely wrecked and retarded-drunk.

Do you think the attitude towards Americans in Europe has changed at all since the last time you came here? No. The English I’ve met always judge Americans the same as anyone else. In my experience, the English are often the most receptive to Americans.

What’s your favorite part about London? Least favorite? Favorite: Victorian pubs serving hand pumped ales. Least favorite: Helllla fucking expensive assed town, dude.

How did you enjoy Thanksgiving, London-style? It was the dog’s bollocks.

What was the best part of your trip here? Seeing my lovely little sister happy and flourishing her new habitat. Ed note: awww

Thanks, Robbie!

A Blast To The Past

Since recently moving into our new home, my housemates and I have been living… without internet (dun dun DUN!). The horror, the horror! The only time we have access to the internet is when we’re on campus and, even then, it’s limited to the times that we’re not in class.

Our culture has become one that is so dependent on internet usage. We use it as a means of communication—from writing a quick Facebook comment, to receiving e-mails from professors, to keeping up with friends and family halfway across the world.

We use it for entertainment. We use it to stay informed with things going on around the world. We use it for academic purposes. We use it for the convenience of looking up directions.

We use it for everything. Moral of the story: without internet in this day and age, we’re all gonna die.

Luckily my housemates and I are survivors in this battle, and have (re)learned to function without it.

For those of you with limited internet access (which, if you’re reading my blog on your limited amount of internet time, then a big gold star goes out to you!), here are some of our top tips to keep yourself informed, entertained, and sane during the hard times:

*Cooking: Put down that takeaway menu! Step away from frozen meals! Preparing a meal with fresh ingredients, completely from scratch, is not only healthy, but it’s a fun way to spend an evening after a long day of working. If you’re like me and not much of a cook, then get a friend to help out and learn their techniques.

*Games: Lately my friends and I have taken to playing traditional party games, like charades. You can also pick up a deck of cards or some cheap board games in a charity shop, and do a whole game night.

*Reading: You know that book that’s been sitting on your shelf for months, just waiting to be cracked open? It’s calling your name! It’s saying, “leave that internet hussy and come back to me, baby!”

The same goes for newspapers. I’m sure the big wigs at The Guardian will be happy to know that there’s still a place in people’s lives for actual newspapers. And those people are poor students who didn’t realize that it takes a long time for internet to be set up…

*Flaneuring: Good ol’ flaneuring, always a great way to pass time!

*Face-To-Face Conversations: When I first started working for Ustream, I thought it was odd to be IMing your co-worker, sitting right next to you, instead of just speaking out loud. However, it quickly became the norm and I adapted accordingly.

Even with close friends, a lot of interaction is done through the internet. Facebook, Twitter, IMing, e-mailing, Skype—there is an endless source of ways to communicate online.

Now, it’s been nice to spend more time having long conversations with people. Each person has so much to offer, we can all learn loads of information from each other.

When you look up something on Wikipedia, you can’t ask follow-up questions or opinions. If you want to know something and ask a person to their face, a simple question can turn into a long and meaningful conversation, or an intellectual debate.

It’s easy to take all of these simple things for granted. That being said, I know I’m going to go back to using the internet a lot more once it’s set up. It’s something that is an integral part of our culture, and is here to stay. However, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot of value to be had in logging off sometimes.

So go forth and close those browsers! Turn off your router! But leave a comment before you do… ☺