Writer: Bernard Shaw
Director: Paul Miller
Shaw at the Orange Tree is no surprise, but what does come as a shock, when you walk into the auditorium, is the new seating arrangement. The famous banquette seating has been ripped out for Covid distancing and instead single chairs are dotted around Richmond’s theatre-in-the-round. But otherwise it’s business as usual for one of London’s best-loved venues.
There’s no doubt that Artistic Director Paul Miller ‘gets’ Shaw as proved by his earlier stagings of forgotten plays such as Misalliance and Widowers Houses. Miller is able to burrow out all of Shaw’s humour by ensuring that the characters, especially the male ones, are larger than life. But it would be interesting to see Miller take on one of Shaw’s more serious plays such as Mrs Warren’s Profession or Saint Joan. Would he still find comedy where it’s least expected?
In comparison to Shaw’s great plays, the two the Orange Tree has selected for the first show of its Recovery Season, seem more like entertainments. And perhaps it doesn’t help to show How He Lied To Her Husband (1904) and Overruled (1912) together in a single evening as their expositions on marriage and their hysterical husbands and matter-of-fact wives begin to merge, and the plays are simply too similar.
In How He Lied To Her Husband. Aurora fears that her husband has discovered love poems written to her by her young lover, Henry Apjohn, a funny Joe Bolland. In the verses Henry refers to his lover by name, because, as Aurora explains, there are many words that rhyme with her name. But before we can try and guess the words – Kia-Ora is the only one that springs to mind – and before the lovers can to make a dignified escape, Aurora’s husband comes home.
Overruled ups the ante by having two couples considering adultery with the men clearly the fools of the piece. Alex Bhat is hilarious as the silver-tongued and louche Mr Lunn, trying to convince Mrs Juno, a sharp Dorothea Myer-Bennett, of his love. Jordan Mifsúd and Hara Yannas as their respective spouses don’t quite sparkle as much, and by the end of the 30 minutes the play is tiresomely repetitive.
Even if Shaw is trying to discuss the way that marriage is a human construct at odds with man’s natural sexual desires, these plays still feel rather shallow. However, all the actors give it their all and they all look the part, and Aurora’s crimson jumpsuit even receives its own credit in the programme. It’s good to be back in the Orange Tree, but these short offerings only serve as amuse-bouches, which, without a main course, leave the audience hungry for something with more meat to its bones.
Runs until 26 June 2021