Although the third play to be written by George Bernard Shaw, Arms and the Man was the first of his plays to be staged and proved to be an instant success. Now the Touring Partnership, which is made up of a selection of some of the country's leading theatres, has revived the play as their latest venture.
The play is based in the Bulgarian home of the Petkoffs, who are one of the country's most distinguished military families. Raina Petkoff (Rachel Ferjani) longs to be reunited with her boyfriend Sergius, who is away on military action. But one night when she is faced with an enemy soldier bursting into her room, she finds it is not her life that is in danger, just her supply of chocolate creams!
Soon the hapless Captain Bluntschli reveals that although wearing a Serb enemy uniform he is really Swiss and ensures that both Raina and her Mother fall for his charms before they assist his safe escape wearing Major Petkoffs old uniform.
Shortly after Sergius and Raina's Father return from war they find that they have an unexpected houseguest, Bluntschli, who they have befriended in military action. But he has not come to see them but to return the borrowed uniform.
Barnaby Kay plays the chocolate loving Captain Bluntschli with just the right amount of charm, and is the definite star of the evening. As his relationship with Raina (Ferjani) develops both actors spark from one another ensuring the play moves along at a reasonable pace. Duncan Preston known to us mainly through his TV work opposite Victoria Wood fails to convince as Petkoff, as it is impossible to imagine his Major ever entering into battle, no matter what the circumstance.
Gwen Taylor who is the most recognisable member of the cast (from TV's Barbara) is Catherine Petkoff, but has very little to do as Riana's Mother. Sam Callis competently plays Sergius who returns from war to continue his relationship with Riana only to find his life turned upside down. Completing the cast are Mali Harries and Fred Ridgeway as the servants Louka and Nicola who are hiding their own secrets, with Matt Zarb as an officer.
Robert Jones set has a contemporary feel, but its use of a painting sweeping back and forth on the front cloth between scenes offers nothing to the story, likewise the final dissolve as Bluntschli appears through a painting across the back of the set. Timothy Sheader’s direction is very rigid with the cast seeming at times very constrained in their moves. The curtain call appears to be totally unrehearsed, as the cast have difficulty manoeuvring around the furniture to take their final bows.
- John Dixon (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle)