The length of the Irish playwright’s saga is probably one of the main reasons why it’s not as popular as other Shaw offerings. The full version runs well over four hours, possibly scaring off all but the most ardent theatre goers. I must admit to being a little apprehensive about watching the latest production, which is being shown in cinemas through National Theatre Live. It runs for three and a half hours.
However it was amazing how quickly the time passed, thanks in part to the fantastic performance of Ralph Fiennes.
Man and Superman is described as a romantic comedy, an epic fairytale and a fiery philosophical debate which asks fundamental questions about how we live.
Fiennes plays Jack Tanner, a celebrated radical thinker and rich bachelor, who seems an unlikely choice as guardian to an alluring heiress, Ann (Indira Varma). But she takes it in her assured stride and, despite the professed love of a poet, she decides to marry and tame this dazzling revolutionary.
Tanner, appalled by the whiff of domesticity, is tipped off by his chauffeur and flees to Spain, where he is captured by bandits. A dream-debate, focussed on heaven versus hell, ensues. Following in hot pursuit, Ann is there when Tanner awakes, as fierce in her certainty as he is in his.
While Shaw originally wrote this play in the early 1900’s, this new production by director Simon Godwin is modern in its appearance thanks to the clothing and props which even include a mobile phone! Some of the critics who saw this play when it was performed at London’s Lyttelton Theatre in February thought that some of the major issues raised in the play weren’t so relevant today- such as unmarried women becoming pregnant and the overbearing power of the British aristocracy. However there are still many lines that are relevant, and there is a lot of very funny dialogue. That said, the play also delivers a great deal of speech, which is often presented at breakneck speed and is often quite verbose.
While Fiennes is the standout performer there are also other excellent performances. Tim McMullan is fantastic as a bandit in the Spanish desert (this is one of the funniest scenes in the play) and in the ‘Devil in the Hell’ scene, which I found required the greatest concentration. Interestingly this is often the scene which is modified when directors have favored shorter productions of the play.
Regular English television and film watchers will recognise many other cast members.
There’s no doubt Man and Superman is more of a marathon than a sprint, requiring quite a bit of concentration due to the nature of the dialogue. However it is well worth the effort – and a 20 minute interval followed by an interview with the director allows for the audience to `reset’ their focus.
National Theatre Live is an initiative by the National Theatre of Great Britain to broadcast live performances onto cinema screens around the world. Upcoming productions include Everyman and Hamlet.
Man and Superman screens from at selected theatres around Australia from June 27. Visit Sharmill Films for more information.
Jenny Burns attended a preview of Man and Superman at Cinema Nova on June 9 as a guest of Sharmill Films.
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