Well it seemed like a good idea at the time, to go to the Phoenix to see ‘Man and Superman’ by Shaw. I didn’t know the play; I only know a few of his including Saint Joan and of course Pygmalion (‘My Fair Lady’.)
and of course more recently, ‘Educating Rita’, though that’s not so much an adaptation as a work which references Shaw.
But about Man and Superman I knew nothing.
Perhaps just as well, else I’m not sure I’d have gone. It was a bit of a rag-bag of a play; the first act was pure Oscar Wilde – witty exchanges in a drawing-room – but the second was quite disconnected from the first and the third, consisting of long philosophical disquisitions by characters stuck in hell, was terribly dull. I fell asleep and shortly afterwards when the play showed no indication of drawing to a close, I left. Afterwards I found out it was three and a half hours! Apparently the third act is often cut, and I can see why. It might have been entertaining when its ideas were new (all the interesting people being in hell; heaven being deadly dull) but they are now so commonplace that the scene really dragged. Ralph Fiennes as the hero, a descendent of Don Juan, is on-stage the whole time and has nearly all the speeches. It must be an exhausting part to play; and in the first scene it occurred to me that the way he was playing the character was reminiscent of Rigsby in ‘Rising Damp’. I have no way of knowing whether this was intentional and I don’t see why it should be, but Steve (for it was he) said he heard of someone who once fell off their chair laughing at Leonard Rossiter. But I digress.
The central notions of the play are quite dated, too: that the aim of man (and principally of woman) is to produce a superman. These ideas have been so discredited by their association with Nazism that had they not been given a largely comic treatment this play would have been quite offensive. As it was I found it dull, baffling and disjointed. But I did enjoy the first act and Ralph Fiennes was of course terrific.
It’s a weird thing, too, seeing these plays relayed from the NT. You’re both there and not there; and when people laugh and clap you feel a weird disembodied sense of sitting among ghosts.
I shall explore this idea further, but that’s enough for today.
Have a good Monday