Arts Theatre, Thu Sep 11
I first encountered the work of George Bernard Shaw as an impressionable young man in my undergraduate years and was enthralled at his ability to make outrageous and provocative ideas defensible. Misalliance is one of the lesser known plays of the 55 he wrote, but it still carries the hallmarks of an irreligious regard for the values of the ruling classes that was typical of Shaw’s work. Misalliance too, like many of Shaw’s plays, exploits the conventions of the comedy of manners tradition as it takes aim at the shallow behaviour of the wealthy and powerful.
The play is set in the countryside home of a wealthy capitalist family who are entertaining the upper class father of a feeble son who is engaged to be married into the family. There is some disquiet about this union, not the least from Hypatia, their betrothed daughter, played capably by Anna Bee. She seems however willing to go ahead with a marriage to someone she doesn’t care for as a way of escaping the drudgery of what she sees as a boring family life where the men have all the power and influence over women, and do little else but talk. Enter the unexpected visitors via an aeroplane crash into their garden. Their bubble of pretence is about to burst.
It transpires that none of the men in the household are happy with their lot in life either, and each of the visitors are secretly invited to marry into this apparently stable and respected family. But in time the deception and pretence of each member of the family is revealed. Only the mother of the household, played by Julie Quick, is content with her lot in life and keeps her dignity intact.
The strongest performance by far is delivered by Adam Tuominen as Joey Percival. He is commanding and unflappable whether being praised or maligned. The father of the family, the self-made capitalist and avid reader (“read Ibsen!” “read Browning!” he delights in telling people at every opportunity) has the most entertaining role and is amusingly played by Lindsay Dunn. The visiting Polish female adventurer, played by Leah Craig, offers a butch kind of comic relief, and together with Hypatia make it very clear that there were women in the early 20th century who wanted more from life than polite society demanded of them.
I found this production quaintly amusing rather than funny. Shaw’s plays are always wordy, and it’s difficult to get the balance right between conveying serious ideas and the underlying satire and humour of the plot. Making the humour relevant to a modern audience is also a challenge. Some obvious signs of first night jitters hampered the flow of this performance too but it will only get better.
by Michael Coghlan
Misalliance continues at Arts Theatre until Sat Sep 20.
Click here to book your tickets or call the Arts Theatre on 8212 5777