Woman and Man and Man and Superman

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

Kirk out

3 thoughts on “Woman and Man and Man and Superman

  1. I think you saw the repeat showing . I was there for the live broadcast on Thursday evening.

    My experience was VERY different from yours. I thought the whole production was uplifiting, life-enhancing and (yes, I’ll say it!) extremely sexy at points. Ralph Fiennes (who has never impressed me before, always coming across as a bit of a cold fish) was outstanding but the rest of the cast, particularly Indira Verma, were far from being just his support.

    And I don’t think the themes of the play have dated at all – there are plenty of us who believe that homo sapiens are not at their final stage of development and that it in order to progress they must ‘overcome’ themselves. This idea was popularised (if that’s the word) by Nietzsche, who provided GBS with the inspiration for this play. I’d agree that it’s very wordy (but what words!) and stretches a very slim story that might have sufficed for a 90-minute romcom (commitmentphobic male dashes off to the continent to avoid marriage to determined feisty female, and is then captured by bandits, but all ends happily) to the length of an epic (and there were still cuts – Shaw’s original script runs for over four hours); but I couldn’t complain when it was put over with such force and commitment.

    It ‘s also an unusual work in that it’s a romanitic/sex comedy very obviously written by someone with very limited exerience of romance and even less of sex (Shaw ‘only did it once”, apparently, and was so cagey about ‘bedroom matters’ that in his private journals he referred to the male and female sexual organs as, respectively, ‘man–root’ and ‘her sex’).

    Yes, Ralph Fiennes did seem to be channeling the late Leonard R – something EVERYONE seems to comment on.

    1. OK that’s interesting.  It’s becoming clear to me that we like very different stuff!  I wasn’t aware that it was a repeat – I thought they just filmed performances and streamed them live – but OMG, four hours!  Interesting too that everyone thinks he’s channelling Leonard Rossiter.  I wonder if it’s deliberate?

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