Call on it time and again

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Anyone who has seen Stephen Daltry's National Theatre production of An Inspector Calls will recall its audacity. The archetypal well-made play is suddenly reconceived as symbolist epic - the Birlings' house perched like an old ocean liner against an angry backdrop, silent crowds milling across the stage to exemplify the class divisions that Mr Birling chooses to ignore.

It was a production which, like the best theatre, provokes, stimulates and sometimes irritates. But the 50 or so GCSE students we took to catch it at the Alhambra, Bradford, were united in their praise: "It was brilliant".

How brilliant then to have this resource pack from the English and Media Centre. It does what all good classroom resources should do - extends learning and provides material not easily accessible to teachers.

The video contains the key moments from the production - curtain-up, the main speeches, the collapse of the House of Birling. A video can never recreate the exhilaration of an original production, but this is well shot from a variety of angles, and students will be fascinated by it.

Better still, each clip has reflective commentaries from the set designer and members of the cast. They tell us about the process of reading and interpreting the text, of putting the production together. Educationally, this is excellent. An Inspector Calls - along with the three key stage 3 Shakespeares - must be the most studied play in Britain. Here it is presented as a living, working text, full of contemporary relevance.

The video contains a scene from the 1954 film version and - talking of audacious - that 1997 Labour Party political broadcast, Second Chance. What a creaky and unsubtle piece of rhetoric that already looks - Jim Broadbent, the angel in a taxi cab, promising brighter days ahead. And how right to place it here, in the context of Priestley's angry social criticism, and encourage students to explore the way emotions are manipulated.

The video is accompanied by a superb file of resources, providing ways of reading the text, as well as transcripts of actors' commentaries and the script of the political video. All of this will finally convince anyone - if anyone still needs convincing - of the way well-structured video resources can enhance students' responses to literature.

Those who say standards are slipping in English should be sent a copy immediately: I can't imagine a resource which is more pedagogically sound, more rigorous and more stimulating. It is highly recommended.

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is deputy head of Thurston Upper School, Suffolk

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