After disappointing audiences with their dreary adaptation of Great Expectations, The Royal Exchange now turn to George Bernard Shaw's classic text in the vain hope that it will be a hit.
Barbara Undershaft (Emma Cunniffe) runs a Salvation Army shelter in the East End. She has strong clear morals and believes that the Lord will help those who seek it. In a world where capitalism is fast becoming a religion in itself, Barbara's views seem simplistic in the ever-present shadow of big business.
In complete contrast, her father's earnings come from the arms trade. After being faced with closure will Major Barbara accept her father's help at the expense of her morals and political beliefs or will she bow down under pressure and accept 'blood money?' to keep her not entirely altruistic lifestyle alive?
George Bernard Shaw's sparkling writing may be 100 years old but there are clear links between his script and an uncertain future in the 21st century. "Mothers milk nurtures murderers as well as heroes," says Barbara's partner, attempting to justify some of his actions. Arguments like this are put across with such conviction by the talented cast that you cannot help but be fired to discuss these issues on the way home.
Cunniffe gives a restrained performance as the Major with morals. She does not play Barbara as a badge-wearing do-gooder but imbues the character with a sense of decency way ahead of her time. David Horovitch plays Barbara's father with ease. His humorous quips are delightful to watch. He again brings depth to a difficult part and therefore you become sympathetic to his character's views.
Laura Cox relishes the rich dialogue as Barbara's fur- wearing acid tongued mother. Greg Hersov's direction is slightly stilted in the opening scenes but he injects pace and ingenuity into act two and the actors rise to his challenge accordingly.
Conor Murphy's marvellous radar flooring and high-class furniture contrast superbly with the Sally Army benches and provide the audience with a real focus for the many moral dilemmas evident within the text.
Major Barbara is a thought provoking piece of theatre which invites you to question the ideology of the modern world and the greed that envelopes us all. This all adds up to a really stimulating evening.
- Glenn Meads