Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The Millionairess

Shaw’s Corner
25 July 2008

It’s a Shaw thing!

We did it last year week before our wedding and we’ve just done it again to start off our anniversary weekend and I honestly don’t think that there’s a more perfect way to spend a summer’s evening. Watching a George Bernard Shaw play at Shaw’s Corner!

I love open air theatre and to see a play performed in the grounds of the house where the playwright lived and most probably wrote that same play is very special indeed.

Shaw’s Corner is the epitomy of this experience. Plays are only put on there a couple of weekends in a year and the late July showing always celebrates the anniversary of GBS’s birth – this year being the 152nd. This July’s offering was The Millionairess, one of Shaw's final plays, written in 1935 when he was 79, and turned into a film in 1962 with Peter Sellars and Sophia Loren, although it was drastically altered for the big screen. A good thing I think, as my husband said it was the worst Peter Sellars film ever!

In true Shaw style, the comedy is spekling, but the capitalist character in the story is portrayed as a monster. In this case it’s the flouncing Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga Fitzfassenden (Amanda Sterkenberg), who, when challenged by an Indian doctor to work and pay her way rather than live off her inheritance, gets her hands dirty for about a minute, before discovering a vocation for management rather than ordinary drudgery! Fair play to her I say!

Most of the heroine's problems are caused by her father fixation but the issue is hardly helped by a rather dim husband (Jonas Cemm) and opinionated would-be lover (Martin Durrant). But with both, she makes it clear to them who is boss, almost killing the non-lover with her martial arts skills. It is only when the penniless doctor (Stephen Chance) comes on the scene that she almost meets her match, but in the end, doesn’t quite lose. Is Shaw saying that ultimately the poor are onto a loser when faced with the rich bosses? Probably, and much as I love the work of Shaw, I also think it’s a bit rich that he bangs on about Socialism when he lived in such a nice big house. It’s easy to be a Socialist in those circumstances isn’t it - Tony Blair?!

In this setting you don’t really worry too much about the staging which is why this review is more about the event and the setting than the play. The actors perform on the long fairly narrow patio at the back of the house so there’s only room for a few chairs and a table and basic props and there are only a couple of doors that can be used as exits and entrances as the actors appear from the house itself. But it doesn’t matter, you just sit back, eat your picnic, enjoy your surroundings and listen to the words, which are of course, the all important thing.

I love the clientele there too. It’s quite funny watching people, I’d hazard a guess that many of the audience all read the Daily Mail and listen to Radio 2 and furthermore, many of these go to an event like this in the same way as they’d go to the village fete or the local pony club horse show. It’s an event that they do as part of their year, rather than because they have a great interest in theatre. Consequently, for some (and I stress for some) the picnic is the most important thing and much thought is put into the most trendy sandwich fillings, “posh” nibbles and the supermarket that does the best wine deals.

Meanwhile, those who are listening to the show demand absolute silence. The mere hint of a rustle of Rock Salt and Balsamic Vinegar oven baked hand-cooked crisps has heads spinning round like The Exorcist to see the offenders. And woe betide anyone who dares not to turn their phone off! And fair dos on that point by the way. At this particular performance, one woman spent a good deal of the second half popping Pringles tubes and fishing huge party sized packs of crisps from her ruck sack. I thought the woman in front of me was going to implode and I’m sure she’s suffering this week from the crick in her ever-spinning neck. Then, horror of horrors, crisp woman’s mobile rang. Now, if that was me I would be mortified and immediately fall on it and switch it right off. Unfortunately, the saturated fat queen’s fingers were a little clumsy (i.e. chubby) and it took an age. Then, she didn’t actually turn it off or put it on silent and of course, the person calling left a voice message. Durrrr!

But apart from this racket which, to be fair, didn’t last the entire evening, the only other thing to break the silence of a perfect summer’s evening was the words in the play. And when they have been penned by GBS, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about!

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