Review: OF MARRIAGE AND MEN (From the Shaw Festival)

by Lynn on June 5, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Royal George Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

The following two one Act plays are collectively titled Of Marriage and Men and are about how women can command and manoeuvre a situation when men think they have the upper hand.

How He Lied to Her Husband

Written by Bernard Shaw

Directed by Philip Akin

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Tamara Marie Kucheran

Cast: David Adams

Shawn Ahmed

Krystal Kiran

While I think Philip Akin directs with flair, it seems as if he has envisioned this as part British comedy with a  Bollywood influence. The result is mystifying and uneven acting doesn’t help.

The Story. How He Lied to Her Husband takes place in London in Her flat in Cromwell Road. .

The characters are identified in the program thus: Her Husband, He (Her Lover), She (Herself).   He is having an affair with She, a married woman whose husband showers her with diamonds. He has come to her flat, dressed in white tie and black tails, looking formal and ready for the theatre. She breezes in dressed flamboyantly in a neon blue gown with sparkles swirling all over it.  She wears a full diamond necklace that sticks to her throat and bosom and a diamond in the middle of her forehead, gifts from her husband.  She’s coy and a flirt and scolds He because the love poems He wrote to Her have been stolen and she thinks their affair will be found out.  He is smitten and is determined to whisk her away after He tells her husband of the affair.  And then the husband shows up, and sparks fly.

The Production.  It’s odd.  He (Shawn Ahmed) is dressed sort of formally as an Englishman would to go to the theatre. The husband (David Adams) is dressed in a business suit that seems appropriate. But She (Krystal Kiran)  looks like she would be better suited for a Bollywood movie. What am I to think here? Both Krystal Kiran as She and Shawn Ahmed as He are of South Asian decent. But only Kiran is dressed with such flamboyance.  The music that is played after the conclusion of the piece  is upbeat with an Indian flair like a Bollywood film. Am I to assume the character of She is of South Asian descent because the actress is? Why? He is dressed in traditional English finery and not in traditional Indian garb. Why? Hence the comment that the intention of the piece is mystifying and odd.

Krystal Kiran as She skims the surface of the character in her acting. There is no sense of depth or calculation, just silliness. Shaw’s character might be flighty and coy, but silly? I don’t think so. Shawn Ahmed as He is a bit better but the acting still feels stodgy and full of effort to be effortless.  As the husband, David Adams has a blustering confidence that is fitting.  But on the whole I found this to be a head-scratcher. Philip Akin is a thoughtful director on the whole, but his intention here left me puzzled.

Comment. How He Lied to Her Husband does have the Shaw way with a phrase and an argument. Shaw talks about marriage, love, infidelity and the way men and women differ in their regard of love and marriage.  The arguments are funny, sound and have that perverse way that Shaw looks at things.

The Man of Destiny

Written by Bernard Shaw

Directed by Philip Akin

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Costumes by Tamara Marie Kucheran

Cast: Fiona Byrne

Martin Happer

Andrew Lawrie

Kelly Wong

Pure Shaw. Sublime production.

The Story. It’s 1796.  Napoleon Bonaparte is at an Inn in Northern Italy waiting for some papers to be delivered to him.  The soldier bringing them arrives and says he was waylaid by another soldier who stole the papers.  It seems the Strange Lady upstairs in the Inn can help with the location of the papers.

The Man of Destiny is about politics, battles, marriage, psychological games playing, one-upmanship and the peculiarities of the British.

The Production and Comment. Philip Akin displays an impish bit of business when the set for How He Lied to Her Husband is changed for The Man of Destiny. Ordinarily the changeover happens during Intermission. Not so here. Akin wants us to see the cleverness of it all, and good thing too.

When we return from Intermission we still hear the Bollywood music playing from How He Lied to Her Husband.  A character in peasant dress comes forward down the aisle of the theatre, looks up towards the stage manager’s booth and says in an Italian accent, with a snap of his fingers, “VIVALDI”. This is Giuseppe who is an inn-keeper in The Man of Destiny. His snapping fingers sets the music to play and the cast from both plays to change the set to a bucolic inn in Northern Italy with lovely scenery in the background. Giuseppe runs the inn.

Here we get the ins and outs of incriminating information. The Strange Lady wants one letter of the bundle to be delivered to Napoleon.  She explains as vaguely as possible that a husband and wife’s honour is at stake. We can surmise whose. In some beautiful badinage between Napoleon and the Strange Lady they discourse on women, relationships and manipulation.  And then in pure Shaw fashion he lets rip with his thoughts on the English as expressed by a Frenchman—or to be accurate, a Corsican—Napoleon.

 I call it ‘sublime’ because evrything here works a treat. Steve Lucas has designed a beautiful Italian Inn with some stunning lighting effects subtly going on for the whole show, daylight shifting into moonlight is quite beautiful.  The acting  is the work of seasoned professionals.  The Italian accented Giuseppe played with impish seriousness by Martin Happer takes everything in his calm, stoical stride, but I do wonder why he has an accent when the others don’t.  Fiona Byrne plays the Strange Lady with steely confidence and never flinches when her character is in trouble, which is often. Her bantering with Kelly Wong’s Napoleon is the work of two masters volleying an argument with shots, lobs and zingers that all hit the mark.

Kelly Wong as Napoleon shows the confidence and brains of a leader who has to be two steps ahead of any one behind  him.  He is never suckered by the Strange Lady. But he knows she’s toying with him and he’s game for the game.  Beautiful work.

Produced by the Shaw Festival

Opened: May 23, 2018.

Closes:  Sept. 2, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.


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