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Orange Tree, Richmond-upon-Thames
THERE'S spice, stodge and some quite juicy mouthfuls in this revival of George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance but the fusion cooking is no ensemble concoction, despite some cracking performances.
Shaw is never sickly sweet and his play is a discussion, and dissection, of some of the key social issues of his day. There’s class conflict, with the nouveau riche’s one-upmanship over the aristocracy and a treatise on the fickle nature of marriage.
And there are stereotypes — and counter-stereotypes — of entrepreneurs, autodidacts and that Shavian favourite, the feisty woman, embodied in the Polish acrobat Lina (Lara Rossi), who literally crashes into the proceedings at the Surrey conservatory where the action is set.
What plot there is, is absurd. In it, the bored and indulged daughter Hypatia Tarleton (Marli Siu) craves adventure. We’re sympathetic, even if she is a brat because we’ve seen her fiance Bentley (Bunny) Summerhayes, played by Rhys Isaac-Jones as some bastard child of Kenneth Williams and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The voice alone renders him insufferable, while Tom Hanson as Johnny Tarleton is perfect. The best of British, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding included, he's the reliable son of an ungrateful father (Pip Donaghy) and he embodies what social commentators now would term “confident ignorant.” Hanson’s comic timing, with his face a cartoon of stupefaction, is a delight. .
Lord Summerhayes is given such insouciance by Simon Shepherd that he seems to have wandered into the production to help out, perhaps, but with little commitment. Some of his more chilling lines, though, are suited to the glib delivery. The former governor of a British colony observes: ”Democracy reads well; but it doesn't act well — like some people's plays.”
And, eliciting an intake of breath from the audience, “Anarchism is a game at which the police will beat you.”
Donaghy’s portrayal of a self-made man is, in some sense, Shaw’s depiction of himself and his contemporaries — well-read but with few real emotional connections. His struggle is Lear-like and has a fine, melancholy moment in a scene which might have been given a little more breathing space.
What shines through, though, is Shaw’s enduring influence.
Playwrights such as Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn, among others, are in his debt and this production is a reminder that, the agit-prop and the experimental aside, it was he who helped make theatre cool.
Runs until January 20, box office: orangetreetheatre.co.uk
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