Orange Tree Theatre
Where: Outer London
23 October 2006 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews The Orange Tree celebrates the 150th anniversary of George Bernard Shaw’s birth with a splendid production of one of his most substantial works. Originally staged by Harley Granville-Barker at the Royal Court 101 years ago, features a classic Shavian debate about such weighty matters as religion, war, capitalism and socialism, delivered with the usual paradoxical humour and epigrammatic wit. Major Barbara
The play focuses on the eccentric Undershaft family. Lady Britomart Undershaft asks her estranged husband Andrew to come to the family home in Belgravia to discuss (and finance) the futures of their three children. Although due to a quirk of tradition, Undershaft, a millionaire armaments manufacturer, will only pass on his huge international business to a foundling, he realizes his strong-willed daughter Barbara has the right temperament for the job.
The trouble is, as a ‘Major’ in the Salvation Army, Barbara is trying to save the souls of the poor, while she is engaged to an impoverished professor of Greek, Adolphus (‘Dolly’) Cusins. Father and daughter strike a deal that he will visit the shelter she runs in West Ham if she will come and see his munitions factory in Perivale. But how can Undershaft persuade his independent-minded daughter to accept the profiting from war she regards as ‘devil’s work’, and still find a foundling successor?
Sam Walters has had the inspired idea of using ‘Undershaft’ explosives crates as chairs and tables in both the home and the shelter, emphasizing how the luxury enjoyed by the family and the charity dispersed by the Salvation Army are dependent on the money Undershaft makes from selling arms. Moreover, as a self-made man himself, for whom ‘poverty is the worst of all crimes,’ Undershaft has built an enlightened factory town for his employees. In the central thematic conflict between the idealism and pragmatism embodied by Barbara and her father, it seems that (unwittingly?) most of Shaw’s creative energy has gone into the charismatic form of the Machiavellian capitalist.
Octavia Walters gives an excellent performance as Barbara, bringing human warmth to her missionary zeal and showing how her religious faith is ultimately converted into socialism. Robert Austin’s deep-voiced Undershaft commands the stage with an impressively understated authority. As Lady Britomart, dishing out haughty put-downs in the name of conventional morality, Jacqueline King is a Lady Bracknell in waiting. And David Antrobus makes a slyly amusing ‘Dolly’, an ironic intellectual who is dismayed to find that he too is seduced by the lure of power when it comes knocking.
- Neil Dowden
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
: The economic impact of Arts & Culture in the UK Infographic When Culture Secretary Maria Miller called for the arts to make their "economic case" for subsidy, t... Plays Cast: Harry Potter star in Southwark Moment, more for Branagh's Macbeth Bonnie Wright, best known for playing Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter films, will make her stage d... Brief Encounter with ... The Kite Runner's Ben Turner Ben Turner stars in the stage version of the bestselling book The Kite Runner, which runs at Liverpo... Titus Andronicus (RSC) This latest production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, to borrow from football punditry, is a p... : Britain's outdoor theatres Take Five With half-term approaching, the weather (hopefully) set to improve for the bank holiday weekend and ... West End Live returns to Trafalgar Square next month West End Live, a weekend of free entertainment from top London shows, will return to Trafalgar Squar... : 'I carry the ghost of Gregory Peck on my shoulders' Robert Sean Leonard Actor Robert Sean Leonard is currently playing Atticus Finch in Timothy Sheader's production of To K... To Kill A Mockingbird Twenty years ago, a young Robert Sean Leonard appeared on the London stage with Alan Alda in... X Factor musical titled I Can't Sing!, opens Palladium March 2014 The forthcoming X Factor musical will be called I Can't Sing! The Musical and will premiere at the L... Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p...