Major Barbara works tirelessly for the poor at a Salvation Army shelter until a large but morally dubious donation is welcomed from her estranged father, Andrew Undershaft, a millionaire weapons manufacturer. But when she visits the factory itself, the well-fed workers in their thriving model town make a devastating case for arms trade profits and a whole new set of ideals.
The NT production stars Simon Russell Beale as Andrew Undershaft and Hayley Atwell as Major Barbara, along with Paul Ready as Adolphus Cusins, Barbara’s Greek scholar fiancé, and Clare Higgins as her mother Lady Britomart Undershaft. The cast also features John Heffernan, Tom Andrews, Stephanie Jacob, Paul Anderson, Ian Burfield and Patrick Drury. The production is designed by Tom Pye.
First night critics were impressed by Hytner’s “elegant” and “stately” production and particularly by the performance at its centre from Simon Russell Beale who, while cast against type as the Barbara’s estranged arms manufacturer father, is nevertheless on “superb” and “commanding” form. There was also praise for the work of Paul Ready, Clare Higgins and John Heffernan in particular, though critics were less effusive about Hayley Atwell. While some acknowledged that the actress is “glowing” and “spirited”, many found her title performance “underpowered”, making the ideological battle between her and Russell Beale uneven. Ultimately, there was also uncertainty about the robustness of Shaw’s dramatic arguments and the playwright’s capacity to fully understand “man's capacity for evil”.
- by Terri Paddock