Birling is a short experimental piece by the Archway Theatre Company. It is a sequel to An Inspector Calls and deals with the character of Birling. It is set in the 1930’s during to depression. The characters have not aged, but have moved on. All characters except Gerald were retained, he was replaced by Ted, a teacher, who Sheila is married to. Gerald, we are told, died in the First World War.

The play begins with Birling returning home from a bankruptcy hearing at court. He reveals that everything has to go, the house, the servants, everything. He is very depressed. It is also revealed that he loathes Ted, and that Eric now owns his own small company. Both his children offer help, but he feels honour bound to refuse. As the play progresses we see him moved into a new, smaller council, house which is falling apart, being forced to apply for a job (he failed the interview due to his old fashioned views on how workers should be treated), getting divorced, and eventually going mad. He is, by the end of the play, insane and inside a mental institute with only prospects of a partial recovery.

The play also replaces the character of the inspector with the psychiatrist. The same actor plays an estate agent, an interviewer, a divorce lawyer and the psychiatrist at the end of the play. The idea seems to be that he is a universal presence, much as the inspector was in the original, except in this we see the events, instead of merely hearing about them. If you take the view that the inspector wasn’t a real man, but something supernatural, it could be assumed that the psychiatrist and the inspector are one and the same.

The play uses many non-naturalistic techniques (Birling himself is played by two actors, and can both be onstage at once) and is funny in places; it is, in my opinion, a worthy successor to the original, although it lacks some of Priestley’s gift for active dialogue.

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