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Shaw Thing: Two one act plays, The Poor School

George Bernard Shaw

Directed by Paul Caister
Pros: You can’t beat George Bernard Shaw for witty, digestible period drama with a twist in the tale. The cast do a good job of delivering an enjoyable performance and provide plenty of laughs.
Cons: There are some clunky bits and some performances are a bit hollow. At times the lines are delivered at such a pace that they become blurred, lose impact and are a little difficult to distinguish.
Our Verdict: An enjoyable production with some good comic timing and commendable performances. It is evident that there are some nerves on stage, hence this production may improve as the run progresses.
What a great idea: two single act plays by the same writer – similarly themed but distinct and rather contrasting in content – in one evening. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them; each is a snapshot of Britain during World War I from two completely different angles, providing commentary on British society that still holds relevance. Shaw is a master of subtlety and incisive, contextual humour, and even in these short plays conveys superbly developed, relatable characters. This, combined with commendable performances from the cast of drama school graduates, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening, complimented by the fact that both the ticket and the bar prices are very reasonable!
The first play, The Inca Of Perusalem, is a comedy of mistaken identity amongst the upper class. The widow of a millionaire, Ermyntrude, lowers herself to seek a position with a Princess so as to find a suitor to secure her financial future. It is in this employ she meets the Inca, the Emperor or Prussia, who is there to arrange a marriage between the Princess and one of his many sons. From there the fun begins. The cast do a fine job portraying the nuance of the cleverly scripted characters. Tara Crabbe as Ermyntrude is entertaining and convincingly wily, which contrasts wonderfully with Freya Papworth’s portrayal of the witless princess. Both actors understand Shaw’s underlying criticism of the upper social class and deliver the humorous parody with finesse. Simon Mitelman brings a gently insecure quality to the bombastic Inca, and could benefit from slowing down the tempo of delivery to allow the audience to fully absorb the comedy amongst the grandiloquence. Andrew Caley’s brief appearance as the Archdeacon is perfectly pitched and I love the direction where he delivers lines seemingly to himself from off stage. Other performances though lack the same conviction and feel a little hollow, as though the actors are not comfortable with the parts being played.
After the interval we return for O’Flaherty VC, a very clever commentary on war, its gritty reality and the motivation of enlisted Irish soldiers. Corporal O’Flaherty has been given reprieve from his heroics in Flanders to assist in the recruitment drive in his native Ireland, by virtue of his Victoria Cross. He lands back in his home town, to meet his Landlord, his mother and his sweetheart as a changed man. The observation of the relationship between the classes is really astute, as is the discourse on why men fight at war and how they feel about the enemy. O’Flaherty’s mother adds a lot of colour as a staunch supporter of an independent Ireland and Tessie, as the love interest, brings a cynical reality. Nathanial Johnson shows real promise as O’Flaherty – his nonchalance and fiery rhetoric befit a soldier in his position and his ‘Irishness’ and accent were highly credible and consistent. He races through his lines though, which detracts from the full impact of the complex and insightful, witty nuance of the character, making it difficult at times to clearly understand what he says, particularly when his back is to the audience. Johnson is energetic and clearly immersed in the part which is enjoyable none the less. Mary Looby does very well cast as O’Flaherty’s mother, a credible and entertaining performance. The rest of the cast serve the play well, however, I feel there is a lot of inconsistency in the delivery of the characters – Sir Pierce and Tessie deserve a little more commitment as each has a crucial element to add to the drama that is lacking.
Overall though, this is a very enjoyable production which is excellent value for theatre on a budget. There is a lot of talent in these shows and a lot of potential as well – I have no idea how long these actors have been training at The Poor School, but they should feel proud of what they have achieved.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Shaw Thing runs at The Poor School until 21st April 2013.
Box Office: 020 7837 6030 or book online at http://www.thepoorschool.com/.

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