‘A Debate In One Sitting’ is the subtitle of George Bernard Shaw’s 1909 play Misalliance. And what a debate it turns out to be, twisting and angling at every corner to catch people out, as they sit in their sunny Surrey conservatory arguing about love, capitalism, extra-marital affairs, patriarchy and enforced dependency and the like.
This is the home of Mr Tarleton (Pip Donaghy), a middle-class shopkeeper that has made his fortune through selling underwear. Their bourgeois lifestyle is captured perfectly by Mrs Tarleton (Gabrielle Lloyd), who eschews the bad manners and vulgar conversation of the aristocracy, whilst accepting some of them (the Summerhays) into her home, given that young Bentley ‘Bunny’ Summerhays is engaged to her daughter, Hypatia. Hypatia (Marli Siu) longs for adventures, and is perpetually bored by the frequent proposals she receives; thus, she settles on Bunny, a rather unsatisfactory match, given his weedy physique and squealing disposition.
Thus, when aristocratic pilot Joey (Luke Thallon) and beautiful, bold acrobatic Lina Szeczepanowska (Lara Rossi) crash land in their garden, it appears as though adventure is in the air after all. As chaos ensues, and the games of kiss-chase commence, it appears as though Mrs Tarleton is the only one to keep her head after all, in spite of the vulgar talk and brutish behaviour that unfolds. For here now is socialist JB (John Brown? James Baker? Or just simply, in Shaw’s text at least, ‘The Man’), come to provide some home truths whilst frantically waving a gun around in an attempt to shock and shame. In the end, some alliances are broken, where some unlikely new ones begin, and every character is almost as despicable as the other. The aristocracy are shamed for their focus on money and foppery, whereas the middle classes are revealed as substance-less, conniving absurdities. All, however, seem driven by emotion and sexual impulse, despite their incessant ‘clever talk’ and debate, rendering them caricatures of the worst kind. It is difficult to empathise with any of them – yet it seems that this is the point in Shaw’s play, to provide more of an entertaining expose rather than a serious challenge to the class system.
Perhaps in Paul Miller’s production more could be done to generate a sense of timelessness to the piece, which would do much to render it applicable to modern audiences. The villainy and self-serving nature of the patriarchy, the scandalous sexcapades that seem to be incessant throughout the ages, and the general boredom of moneyed aristocrats, could perhaps be put under a microscope and further pulled apart, for instance. As it is, with a simple set and some solid acting, Misalliance is a lot of farcical fun, but perhaps does not pack quite as much of a punch as it could – or should, for a 21st-century audience.
Review by Amy Stow
A Surrey conservatory, a summer afternoon: marriage is in the air. So far, so conventional.
Hypatia Tarleton, uneasily engaged to bright yet immature aristocrat Bentley Summerhays, longs for adventure to drop out of the sky. And with a sudden crash of glass, it does.
Enter Lina Szczepanowska, Polish acrobat and daredevil pilot whose independent spirit galvanises the household. Meanwhile, an unhappy cashier also infiltrates this Hindhead idyll, bearing a grievance and a gun…
By the end of the day, eight marriages have been proposed. But which are the misalliances?
If marriages were made by putting all the men’s names into one sack and the women’s names into another, and having them taken out by a blind-folded child-like lottery numbers, there would be just as high a percentage of happy marriages as we have now.
One of Shaw’s most playful and inventive early comedies about class and Feminism gets its first major revival in 30 years. Paul Miller directs following his acclaimed productions of Shaw’s The Philanderer and Widowers’ Houses at the Orange Tree.
BY BERNARD SHAW
7 December 2017 — 20 January 2018