Review of O’FLAHERTY V.C. (from the Shaw Festival)

by Lynn on June 25, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

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

Written by Bernard Shaw

Directed by Kimberley Rampersad

Designed by Sue LePage

Lighting by Mikael Kangas

Musical direction by Patrick Bowan

Cast: Patrick McManus

Tara Rosling

Ben Sanders

Gabriella Sundar Singh

Bernard Shaw focuses his laser gaze on the folly of war, patriotism, the power of ignorance and education and how to balance it all in this bracing, witty production.

The Story. We are in an Irish country house in a park in the summer of 1915. O’Flaherty has returned from the war where he was awarded the Victoria Cross (hence the V.C. of the title) for bravery in battle. Now his attention is on recruiting young men for the war effort. The only problem is that O’Flaherty is Irish and his mother thinks he was fighting ‘against’ the English, not for them. O’Flaherty’s commanding officer is General Sir Pearce Madigan. He is also the ‘squire’ from whom O’Flaherty poached geese etc. then sold them back to him before he went into the army. We then meet O’Flaherty’s vibrant, excitable mother and matters get interesting.

The Production. Director Kimberley Rampersad has a firm handle on this play and its world. Recruiting posters urging “Boys! Come along you’re wanted” hang down from the flies at the back of the stage in Sue LePage’s pastoral set.  Pots of “greenery” dot the set in front of a manor house.

To set the mood the four actors (almost in costume) sing army and folk songs that put us in Ireland in 1915. Patrick McManus on guitar sings in a mournful voice, Ben Sanders on banjo sings in a beautiful tenor voice, Tara Rosling bangs and Irish drum  and belts out a number and Gabriella Sundar Singh plays the piano and sings in a beautiful soprano voice.

When the play begins proper, O’Flaherty (Ben Sanders) stands, in his  smart army uniform, his Victoria Cross is worn neatly on his left chest. He looks into the distance.  When General Sir Pearce Madigan (Patrick McManus in full uniform and mustache) approaches O’Flaherty  stands to attention until he is put at ease by his commander. The difference in rank and station is obvious and how both approach it. But this being Shaw there is that time when both soldier and officer, one an  uneducated servant and established lord of the manor, find a common bond—the war—and treat each other with equal respect.

As O’Flaherty, Ben Sanders has an almost wistful sadness when he realizes how happy he was being uneducated when he was at home and how his world has changed when he joined the world and the war  and learned fast by living in it. He has become philosophical (Hello Shaw), he wonders where his true place is in the world. He muses that perhaps war is his true world.

As General Sir Pearce Madigan, Patrick McManus has that confidence and dimness of a person of high station who is clueless about any other world but his own. He is sometimes amused by O’Flaherty but most of the time he’s aghast. McManus conveys this with a formal confusion. And his efforts to light his pipe offer some sly, subtle humor. Kimberley Rampersad adds lovely touches of humour that never overpower a moment.

All hell breaks out when Mrs. O’Flaherty (Tara Rosling) appears and while she’s happy to see her son, she’s mighty annoyed when she learns he’s fighting for the ‘wrong’ side (ie. for the English). Mrs. O’Flaherty has charm and a wily sense of how to ‘play’ the squire/commander. There is nothing simple about this complex woman, and Rosling brings out all her layers with aplomb. Gabriella Sundar Singh plays Teresa, O’Flaherty’s ‘intended.’ She knows her world, she’s comfortable in it, but she also knows that O’Flaherty has changed and she’s none too happy about it. Singh is feisty, flirty, and protective of what she thinks is hers. All the performances are fine.

Comment. In true Shaw fashion he has created a serious comedy. As a keen observer of life, the class-conscienceless of the British, the folly of war and the benefits, that ignorance is bliss in some quarters and education can cause unhappiness. Lots to chew over in this neat, well-done lunch hour treat.

Produced by the Shaw Festival.

Opened: June 20, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 6, 2018.

Running Time:  45 minutes

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