Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man may not seem the most obvious or commercially profitable play to revive in the 21st Century, being set during the long-forgotten Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885, but the themes of war satire and over-Romanticised behaviour in war are still strikingly prevalent today.
This production chooses to emphasise this by showing projections of various depictions of war on the floor in the opening moments and during scene changes. You’re never left in any doubt that any of the social commentary being made, despite being delivered in the linguistic style of the time, was now irrelevant.
A loose idea of the plot is that a wealthy Bulgarian, Raina (Claire Durrant) is interrupted in the night by an enemy soldier, the endearing Serbian Captain Bluntschli (Simon Rudkin). They form an unlikely bond whilst discussing the downsides of war, and various comedic moments play out when an unfortunate coincidence occurs. The second act then focuses further on the rest of the family in the household, and how this chance meeting – and the war – affects them. The use of farcical comedy is rife, and events escalate until what can only be described as a ‘love pentagon’ (rather than triangle) emerges.
The author’s use of satire is heavily directed at the effect of war on a family. One character, Sergius (Christian Search) is excessively buoyed by his military service and plays a stereotypical, egotistical Major from the era (think Stephen Fry in Blackadder and you’re not far from this portrayal). When he’s later foiled in not only his working life, but also his love life and social position, the traditional fall from hubris is most entertaining to watch. Some of the plot points that seemed throwaway and random in the first act play a role in the final scenes, so it’s worth sticking with.
As mentioned, the main plot device in the show is that of radical coincidences happening to produce humour. This is not a piece to be taken entirely seriously – the script is delivered with an almost pantomime-esque tone by all concerned, well aware that their respective character is ridiculous in some way. Some of the jokes fall slightly flat but the moments of dramatic irony (when the audience knows something the character doesn’t) are written and delivered sensationally.
The staging is nicely elaborate for a small production and the cast make good use of the ample space given to them – scene changes were smooth, with stage hands working during accompanied gaps, and the cosy theatre meant acoustics were good enough for old fashioned speech projection without the use of microphones. There were a few small problems on the night with lighting effects and whatnot – at one point the actors performed in darkness for two minutes before the lights came up – but small issues such as these will no doubt be ironed out as the run progresses. The first act is largely a set-up for the eruption of hilarity which occurs in the second act. This was reflected in the actors’ performances, which were adequate at first but grew in confidence once the action got going. Particular mention must go to Wendy Megeney as Catherine, delivering a wonderfully funny turn as Major Petkoff’s (Robin Ingram) despairing wife.
If you’re in the area then get along to see this delightful play in Ealing. I certainly learned a lot about a period of history I knew very little of. By finding comedy in the most unlikely of scenarios, there are plenty of giggles to be had along the way.
Review by Ash Benzaiten
The Questors present
Arms and the Man
by Bernard Shaw
Shaw’s glittering comedy of love and war
While young Raina dreams of her dashing fiance’s heroism on the battlefield, a suave Swiss mercenary climbs through her bedroom window, scorning military glory in favour of chocolate. His appearance provides a lesson in the realities of both war and love, and changes her life.
Shaw’s satire on militarism is also an unconventional love story and a comedy of fin-de-siecle manners.
Brilliantly witty, and at times almost farce, with a household full of hilarious characters, this is one of Shaw’s liveliest and most enjoyable comedies.
Suitable for ages 10+
Contains limited smoking on stage, a few loud bangs and a single lighting flash
Directed By: Steve Fitzpatrick
Written By: Bernard Shaw
Produced By: The Questors
Featuring: Claire Durrant, Wendy Megeney, Juliet Vaughan Turner, Simon Rudkin, Artur Mrozek, Sandeep Bhardwaj, Robin Ingram and Christian Search.
The Questors present Arms and the Man
25th September to 3rd October 2015
in the Judi Dench Playhouse
12 Mattock Lane, Ealing W5 5BQ
Saturday 26th September 2015