Sunday, 29 March 2015

'Man And Superman' at the National Theatre

How come I've managed to go all these years without seeing a George bernard Shaw play (with the exception of 'My Fair Lady' … ok, 'Pygmalion' if you insist) and then I see two in the space of two months? What's happening?

I saw 'Widower's Houses' at the bijou Orange Tree Theatre in January and then, a couple of weeks, ago, 'Man and Superman' at the National Theatre. There were decades in-between these plays and it shows in the writing. Well, in the sense that there are a lot more words in 'Man and Superman' than in the former. But both focus on social mores and what's right. And both feature rich people (were there really any other kind back then?).

There's all sorts thrown into the pot and left to simmer. It opens with death and its consequences, parental responsibilities, love and unrequited love, pregnancy outside wedlock, secret marriages, bandits in the mountains of Spain, the nature of heaven and hell… o yes, it's all in there! And some very long speeches. I mean *very* long speeches.

Ralph Fiennes heads up the cast as Jack Tanner, the independently wealthy radical who's in favour of anything the older generation disapproves. What I couldn't understand is why he played the role as Rigsby from 'Rising Damp' with his hands glued to his hips and legs astride.  As soon as he came on stage I was diverted by the Rigsby impression and thinking 'is it just me?' that sees this. What was that all about?

Nicholas Le Provost was quite fun as the blustering representative of authority and the older generation but I much preferred him in Hell as he tried to escape from Heaven because it was just too dull for words. I also liked Tim McMullan as the bandit chief and as the Devil in the Hell scene with Ralph Fiennes as Don Juan. That scene is far too long with some incredibly lengthy speeches (how do actors learn so many words?) but it worked for me with Don Juan eventually deciding to pay a visit to Heaven to see what it's like. The sparse set for the Hell scene made full use of the  video wall that's there during the whole play as it changed colour. It was quite mesmerising at times.

Would I go to see this play again? No. Am I pleased to have seen it? Yes. It's full of interweaving themes and thoughts that provoke thoughts, conjuring up images to dwell on but o my Lord it's too long. There's too much of it! But I've seen it now so don't need to read it. It does, however, make me a bit more interested in Mr Shaw. Maybe I should see another of his plays the next time one is produced?

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