A wit had it that the English, not being a spiritual people, invented
cricket to give themselves some idea of eternity. Well for all too long in
Man and Superman , splendidly revived by Peter Hall, I understood eternity
all too well.
Things in the first half had been 'ding dong'. The production sparkling with
an outstanding central performance by Will Keen. And then, early in the
second half, Shaw produces his soapbox, shuffles his notes, and launches
into one of the most tedious, protracted and completely unnecessary scenes
it has ever been my misfortune to sit through. Civilisations rose and fell.
If Peter Hall doesn't have a red pen I can lend him one. Without the 'Don
Juan in Hell' scene, this production would be a joy and a good deal shorter
than its current running time of three-and-a-half-hours. With it, well, as
the Bard, against whom Shaw often inveighed, put it, "patience and sorrow
The programme notes the debt of the play, said scene aside, to Much Ado
About Nothing with Jack Tanner (Keen) and Ann Whitefield (Rebecca Hall)
standing in for Benedick and Beatrice. Certainly Shaw is on form with the
dialogue he produces. ("A lifetime of happiness? No man could bear it".)
Jack, rich but self-appointed revolutionary, has been appointed joint
guardian to his childhood friend Ann Whitefield following her father's
death. The other guardian, the splendidly-named Roebuck Ramsden, is
outraged. Tanner, however is panicked, rightly sensing an impending
catastrophe he is powerless to avert. Its true nature though he does not
grasp until too late.
Will Keen is glorious, if occasionally over strident, Rebecca Hall, however,
gives a 'turn' which has little sense of interiority. She is charismatic,
confident but does not inhabit the role. Fortunately there is excellent
support, particularly from James Laurenson as Rosebuck Ramsden and Statue,
William Chubb as Mendoza and the Devil, and Sophie Winkleman as Violet.
There is much to be savoured in this production in which Shaw punctures
pomposity and humbuggery with customary wit and élan. However, pleasantries
yield to pedantry for much of the second half. If, like Lear, you can cry,
"pour on, I will endure" as the second half stretches out before you like a
three-day test there's fun to be had. But it's not for the faint of heart.