Saturday, February 04, 2012

Priestley thoughts

It may be a bit corny and the favourite of every regional rep and local amateur dramatic society, but I had never seen J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls until last night. As it was touring, I though I had to go.

The play is a bit didactic, though the socialist subversion of the whodunnit genre is clever and is carried along by the gripping quality of Priestley's writing. The National Theatre's revival, with its inventive set and effects, is terrific. It enhanced rather than imposed on the original. It was a stark and atmospheric evocation of the whole theme of class conflict.

What the play hangs on is that, even when confronted with the full evidence of the human cost of their exploitation, the bourgeoisie will invent reasons to ignore it, find nice little justifications to continue enjoying their privileged, destructive lives and hide from the looming consequences of war and revolution. And, of course, by doing so, they seal their own fate.

And here also hangs the irony. The première of the play was held in Moscow in 1945; in the charnel house of Stalinism at its height. And here too is the evidence of how some of the left intelligentsia, motivated by anger at injustices at home, blocked their ears and averted their eyes from the purges, the camps, the torture chambers, the brutal exploitation of the Russian working class in their own name and the gathering clouds of a new wave of anti-Semitism, aimed at "rootless cosmopolitans". They too found reasons why they could ignore it, continue with their earnest activism and not face the realities of a world they idolised.

None of this detracts from the quality of the play, nor of its analysis that the comforts of bourgeois existence rested on economic and personal exploitation, coupled with a callous disregard for workers, all informed by an individualist philosophy that masked their own class collaboration. Instead it points to an ongoing human and political dilemma, a capacity for self-delusion and an ability to avoid inconvenient truths and their possible consequences.

And as I write this on my Apple Mac computer, I can click on a tab that brings up an article describing the real lives of the real people who made it in China and swiftly pass over to the next web page, the Apple Store, where I will consider purchasing my next shining new toy.

1 comment:

KB Player said...

I've heard the play on the radio. As you say, it's didactic - also a bit stagey and dated - but it's an interesting theme to try and dramatise. Easier to put in a novel rather than a drama, I would have thought. The idea of doing a kind of Agatha Christie of bringing everyone into the room for the crime to be revealed is a master stroke. I suppose it's the stodgy English equivalent of Brecht's The Good Woman of Szechuan.