At the beginning of the play, Priestley uses an extensive set of stage directions, which he uses as a dramatic device to show how cold and callous members of the Birling family are. Priestley also uses lighting skilfully as another dramatic device. He says that the lighting should be pink and warm at the start of the play, but when the inspector arrives, it should change to ‘brighter and harder’. This gives the impression that at first the audience is seeing the family through almost rose tinted glasses, however, once the inspector arrives, the truth is revealed.
Before the inspector arrives, Sheila is just a normal girl of her time. She has just listened to her father make a speech on how every man should work for himself, but then the inspector arrives. It is a clever dramatic device used by Priestley to discredit Mr Birling, and therefore his capitalist ideas too. She has no responsibility, and has been brought up by a capitalist factory owner to believe that each man should work for himself only. Priestley uses dramatic irony very well as during Mr. Birling’s speech, he claims that ‘there will be no war and that ‘the Titanic will not sink’. The audience in 1945 would have known that those things had happened soon after, thereby making Mr Birling an unreliable character.
At this point in the play, Sheila is confident because she is everything she’s been taught is good in a woman; beautiful, a good wife and ready to start a family. She is light hearted and unaware of the outside world, and her only aims in life were to look beautiful and to get married. As she has got engaged to a man who has an even higher status than her, she has achieved what would be seen as one of her main aims in life. Therefore, at this point in the play, she is extremely jovial.
She is pleased by small things and is rather excitable too. “Oh yes, it’s wonderful!” When she gets the engagement ring she wants, she needs to act extremely pleased. Her speech is split as she is unable to construct sentences to express her emotions properly, and this needs to be made clear to the audience so they can understand Sheila’s character better. As she is still quite immature for her age due to the way she’s been bought up, she needs to act almost like a young child. She should use lots of hand gestures and seem unable to control all her strong feelings of happiness.
However, when the inspector arrives, her whole attitude should change. For probably the first time in her life, she is made to feel guilty about what she’s done. She starts to think about the world outside of her environment, and can actually see that the things which she and her family do without a second thought can have an adverse affect upon other people less fortunate than her. She sees what life is like, outside of the protective bubble she has lived in for the past years.
Immediately she finds out about what happened to Eva Smith, she becomes rather distressed ‘I can’t help thinking about this girl’. She has never had to deal with anything similar to this before, but is able to empathize with Eva. She’s still young, as she says ‘I wish you hadn’t told me’ which shows her wanting to be able to go back to how she saw, however, she is able to understand the problems.
She is able to realize, before anyone else in her family, just how much of a part they all really played in Eva’s death. Sheila needs to act upset, so you need to use a high pitched voice, tremble slightly and use suitable facial expressions. However, she also has to show how greatly she has matured in just a matter of minutes, so she needs to be able to control her emotions, in contrast to how she was before. Show this by having Sheila take a breath – a sign of trying to compose yourself- before speaking to ask questions on the affair. Also, look right into the inspectors eyes, to show how her concern is genuine.
Sheila needs to show how far she’s progressed when she says ‘These girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people’. That is an obvious sign of Sheila’s changed view on the world, and the audience need to be able to notice this. When you say that line, say it very clearly and look at the audience so you can communicate the message to them well. Emphasize ‘people’ as it’s the key word in the sentence because it shows that Sheila is starting to see the world from a completely different angle than what she brought up to see it as.
Sheila was the one who was had Eva dismissed from her job so you must show what tremendous guilt Sheila feels for her part in Eva’s death. When Sheila is shown the picture of Eva, she needs to almost revert back to her old, immature and emotional self as she runs out of the room. However, she does return, which shows that she is able to face up to what she has done. She asks ‘So I’m really responsible’, which shows that she is embracing the idea of responsibility. That line clearly shows Sheila being able to take her share of the blame for what happened, unlike most of her family. It shows the clear differences between them, as they deny any of it was their fault, whereas Sheila accepts it.