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Overruled – Old Red Lion Theatre, London

Writer: George Bernard Shaw

Director: Polina Kalinina

Reviewer: Lettie Mckie

[rating:3.5]

Overruled is a triple bill of three short comedies by George Bernard Shaw directed by Polina Kalinina and currently being presented by The Wilmington Theatre Company at the The Old Red Lion Theatre in Angel.

The first act consists of two short pieces called How he lied to her husband and Overruled. Both tell similar, irreverent stories of infidelity between married couples. In the first Jasmine Hyde is perfectly cast as the beautiful Aurora. She is carrying on with the much younger Henry (Leo Wyndham) who believes that she is madly in love with him. At the beginning of the play they meet and Aurora is in great distress as some incriminating poems he has written for her have gone missing. This play is a light hearted and hilarious vignette. With spot on comic timing the pair bring Bernard Shaw’s farcical, melodramatic script to life. They handle the witty fast paced dialogue with aplomb, accurately capturing the characters’ selfishness, naivety and frivolity.

Leo Wyndham returns in Overruled as Mr Lunn who is on the brink of an affair with Mrs Juno (Lucy Hough). At the same time their respective spouses (Patrick Warner and Alice St Clair) are growing closer as well. The couples have met on two different cruise ships and have just returned to dry ground.

In these plays an affair does not mean sex, or even kissing, but simply the possibility of it. Bernard Shaw writes graceful comedy laced with thought provoking underlying themes. The characters are young, beautiful, melodramatic and self-absorbed. They are all deeply flawed, anxiously probing their own feelings and revealing the weaknesses behind their elegant clothes in the process. Their neuroses make the audience laugh at them, rather than with them as they futilely try to live up to the glamorous ideal of the people they aspire to be.

Village Wooing in the third act presents an unexpected contrast to these two effortless, ever so slightly silly plays. It tells the story of two unnamed characters A (Jim Creighton) and Z (Lucy Hough) a man and a woman who meet on a cruise ship. The first scene is the most effective whereby Z tries to engage A in conversation and partially succeeds although he is rather annoyed to be interrupted from his work. The two strangers irritate and misunderstand each other respectively but they also appear to share a misplaced attraction and connection as two lonely outsiders on a cruise ship. The actors deliver this scene flawlessly, developing chemistry and maintaining pace throughout.

The second half of Village Wooing was far less successful however. The story breaks down when A turns up again in Z’s life when she has returned to the village she comes from as a shop girl. Although the actors tackled the heavy dialogue valiantly the play became increasingly less compelling as the audience are asked to believe that A does not recognise Z and that Z wants to marry A. A’s character as a plucky shop girl becomes less and less plausible and the dialogue much more self-consciously attached to its themes. Whereas in the two proceeding plays the nature of love, marriage, fidelity and happiness is explored through thought provoking and engaging stories, in the third act the story is more serious, but less truthful or believable.

Bernard Shaw’s pure comedy here works far better than a straighter play at revealing human frailty and vulnerability.

Runs until 19th January

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