Review: GETTING MARRIED (Shaw Festival)

by Lynn on June 1, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

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

Written by Bernard Shaw

Directed by Tanja Jacobs

Designed by Shannon Lea Doyle

Lighting by André du Toit

Original music and sound by James Bunton

Movement by Alexis Milligan

Cast: Damien Atkins

Katherine Gauthier

Cameron Grant

Martin Happer

Claire Jullien

Andrew Lawrie

Marla McLean

Monice Peter

Chick Reid

Ben Sanders

Graeme Somerville

Steven Sutcliffe

A scintillating, smart, hilarious interpretation of Bernard Shaw’s prickly play on marriage. Everything about Tanja Jacobs’ production is dandy.

The Story. Edith Bridgenorth is engaged to Cecil Sykes. She is the youngest of six  daughters of Alice and Alfred Bridgenorth. But Edith and Cecil are in their rooms reading a pamphlet on marriage indicating all sorts of reasons why not to get married and they are having second thoughts about the whole thing.

Shaw was focusing on the archaic divorce laws at the time—1908. If a husband was a lunatic who committed a crime, the wife could not divorce him. If a husband wanted to divorce his wife he was liable for her debts.

Everybody in Edith’s family—her mother, Alfred her Bishop father who was going to marry his daughter, her uncle General Boxer Bridgenorth who wants to give her away as has been his custom, even William the greengrocer has–an opinion on marriage.  The most intriguing opinion on marriage etc. is from Lesbia, Edith’s independent aunt.

Boxer has proposed to Lesbia nine times. She likes him but does not want to marry him. He smokes and smells of it. He’s messy and she’s tidy. If she could have children, her own house and independence she would think about it, but the social rules of that day frown on that.

Interestingly, British novelist Margaret Drabble and Michael Holroyd (who wrote the definitive biography of George Bernard Shaw), are married and each has kept her/his own house to ensure independence.

So, the wedding party tries to draw up a contract where every eventuality is thought of and still there is little agreement.  It works out as only Shaw can work out a dilemma. He always writes of human foibles and he always makes sure that he lectures about it with his usual intellectual, humourous flair.

The Production. How do you make a play written in 1908 work in 2019 with our modern attitudes on marriage? Director Tanja Jacobs has set her scintillating, smart and deeply funny production in 1950 when ideas of change were afoot; regarding design, architecture, the arts, and society.

According to Tanja Jacobs’ programme note, in 2019 The Guardian newspaper reported that the idea of a no-fault divorce would be introduced when the British Parliament has the time to devote to it.

Shaw wrote his play in 1908 as an argument against the archaic divorce laws of his day. They are still archaic in 2019. Tanja Jacobs’ production illuminates the times and ideas through the lens of 1950. And while Getting Married is an argument for saner divorce laws, it is also an examination of the archaic mores about marriage in Shaw’s time (all 94 years of it.)

While the play is set specifically in England there is a universality to the subject matter, so the cast uses their usual Canadian accents. Shannon Lea Doyle’s set of the simple kitchen in the Bishop’s house is a wonderful powder blue.  It’s bright and airy.

Mrs. Bridgenorth (a perky, calm Chick Reid) is sitting reading the paper before the wedding. She wears a vibrant green crinoline dress. She’s chatting with Collins (Damien Atkins), the greengrocer who has efficiently arranged the details of the wedding.

They are joined by Boxer (Martin Happer) puffed up in full army regalia, complete with medals, ready to give the bride away as he has five previous times. To accentuate his stodgy clumsiness, Tanja Jacobs has him constantly banging into stools and knocking them over. Added to this, he proposes to Lesbia for the 10th time. You just love the awkwardness of Boxer because of the wonderful way Martin Happer plays him—blustery, pompous but ultimately wounded because Lesbia (Claire Jullien) rejects him again and embarrassed at his failings.

Claire Jullien plays Lesbia with a shiny confidence and matter of factness. She endures Boxer’s proposals and stodgy pronouncements on marriage with barely veiled impatience and growing exasperation. She is exasperated with him, almost not wanting to be in the same room with him. When Lesbia does soften, Claire Jullien gives Lesbia a gentle demeanor. She tries to reason with Boxer as a married couple might deal with a disagreement. That is one of the joys of their wrangling.

Damien Atkins plays Collins, the greengrocer, with clipped seriousness and is hilarious.

Graeme Somerville is Alfred Bridgenorth, the Bishop. He is thoughtful, has common sense and is knowing. I get a sense he might be a George B. Shaw stand in because he sees the humour in everything.

Marla McLean plays the mysterious Mrs. George. She has a fabulous entrance and she makes every moment of it. First of all she’s in a red crinoline dress of the times and is dazzling. She enters with such supreme confidence, flirting with every man and dealing with the women in a matter of fact way. She is fearless, irreverent and a hopeless romantic.

The whole cast is dandy.

The production is scintillating, smart and deeply funny because director Tanja Jacobs has such a theatrical, keen eye. Having Boxer bang into the stools is one example. Tanja Jacobs knows how to make a pause work to great effect. The text might indicate a “pause” in the dialogue,  but Jacobs makes the characters  hold that pause with attitude. The result is hilarious.

We are primed to expect a character named Mrs. George who is all knowing and a celebrated flirt. Mrs. George is announced with great fanfare by Mr. Collins, the greengrocer. We look up  at the door where she will arrive. All the characters look up towards the door as well. Then the room goes black because Tanja Jacobs puts an intermission there, leaving us hanging in anticipation.


Tanja Jacobs stages and directs her talented cast with finesse and an eye to detail so that they realize every inch of their characters and the audience gets the benefit of a deep exploration of Shaw’s ideas on marriage, divorce and all the areas in between.

Comment. This production is the best of the four Shaw openings I’ve seen so far. The play is quintessentially Shaw with lots to discuss and chew over. It’s the Shaw Festival at its best.

The Shaw Festival Presents:

Opened: May 25, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 13, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.


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