Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Major Barbara

No doubt about it, there’s a George Bernard Shaw boom on at the moment. The NT’s Saint Joan last year was pretty awesome; I’m a little bit more quizzical about its production (just ending) of Major Babara.

Undoubtedly, this play raises interesting and still very relevant questions. I thought the second act in the Salvation Army shelter was as great as theatre can get – it’s just the last act, despite the spectacular setting in an armaments factory (brilliantly realized in this production) displays some of Shaw’s most wordy faults. It does drag – worse, the characters Undershaft and Cusins debate loftily at length while the rest of the cast sit around like Madame Tussaud’s waxworks. Occasionally Lady Britomart Undershaft or Charles Lomax pop up with a comedy turn to jolly things along. The only dramatic tension is the choice facing Adolphus Cusins, and how he will square this with Barbara. The contrast with the morally fluid and dramatically explosive second act is pretty extreme.

I loved the cast and production – this was just a Shaw thing with me, I think. I’m seeing Pygmalion this week, so we’ll see.

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