by Lynn on June 1, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Playing until Oct. 8.

Written by George Bernard Shaw

Directed by Sanjay Talwar

Set by Sue LePage

Costumes by Joyce Padua

Lighting by Nick Andison

Original music and sound by John Gzowski

Cast: Neil Barclay

Patrick Galligan

Martin Happer

Marla McLean

Travis Seetoo

Donna Soares

Graeme Somerville

Jonathan Tan

Jenny L. Wright

Fascinating play and bracing production.

The Story. The Microbe has happily occupied its time by keeping The Patient (Miss Mopply) bed-ridden with sickness, so much so that The Microbe is now ill. Added to Miss Mopply’s malaise is her fidgety, anxious mother, The Elderly Lady (Mrs. Mopply) who has been distressed because all her children have died from sickness. So to protect her ill daughter, Mrs. Mopply has kept Miss Mopply tucked up in bed, in a dark room, with the blinds closed preventing any light from entering, and the window shut tight, so that nothing resembling fresh air will enter. She has also coerced the frustrated Doctor to give Miss Mopply a new prescription. He knows that fresh air, light and getting out of that bed will do a world of good for Miss Mopply, but Mrs. Mopply is a force, and he has no choice but to acquiesce to her demands.  Mrs. Mopply is not a ‘helicopter mother’—they hover protectively above their children. Mrs. Mopply is a ‘blanket mother’—she lays across her daughter and smothers her with excessive, unhelpful ‘care’.

Added to this scenario are: The Nurse (Susan “Sweetie” Simkins) who is tending to Miss Mopply and The Burglar (“Popsy”) in cahoots with The Nurse. They plot to rob Miss Mopply of her real pearl necklace, fence it and take the money and go flee to a tropical place for fun and relaxation. A twist is that Miss Mopply insists that she be included in the plot as well.

At the end of Act I The Microbe (Travis Seetoo) tells the audience that the play is virtually over but that all concerned will discuss various things and each other for the next two acts. George Bernard Shaw did have a quirky sense of humour.  

The Production. We get the full force of the pampered and opulent life of Miss Mopply (Donna Soares) in Sue LePage’s Act I bedroom. The bed is covered high with a duvet, pillows, fluff, stuff and gloom. No light from yonder window breaks into this bedroom. The window is closed and no outside light glimmers in.  As Miss Mopply, Donna Soares plays the invalid to the hilt—whiney, petulant, demanding.

We hear Mrs. Mopply (Jenny L. Wright) before we see her: her footfall is loud, insistent and suggests short, sharp footsteps in heels. Every step is full of angst, agitation and worry. If this is director Sanjay Talwar’s suggestion or Jenny L. Wright’s invention, it’s brilliant in establishing the obsessive annoyance of Mrs. Mopply. As anxious as Mrs. Moppy is, that is as laid-back as Marla McLean is as The Nurse. She is cool and has seen it all. Graeme Somerville is The Burglar and he is smooth, articulate and philosophical. He is also the Honourable Aubrey Bagot, a devoted man of religion. The hapless Doctor (Martin Happer) tries his best to tend to his patient but Mrs. Mopply runs interference, and her fierce foot-fall is frightening.

In Act II and III we are in “A sea beach in a mountainous country.” I don’t know how that is possible, but it’s Shaw so you take it on faith. For this Sue LePage has many rocks around, a sturdy wood chair, a trunk and other stuff suggesting someplace primitive.

So far Shaw has discoursed on smothering mothers who know nothing about the benefits of fresh air, good food, sunlight, exercise and getting out of bed first thing in the morning. Then in Act II and Act III he goes for the gusto. There is pompous Colonel Tallboys (Neil Barclay) in charge of the area for the British Empire who knows nothing of the people or the language or how to govern. He would rather paint watercolours. The real person in charge is Private Napoleon, Alexander Trotsky Meek (Jonathan Tan). Naturally being a pompous colonial representative of the governing British Empire, Tallboys has nothing but contempt and exasperation for Meek. As Tallboys, Neil Barclay always seems to be at the end of his tether with the calm insouciance of Meek. Understandable, since Jonathan Tan as Meek has all the answers to all the questions and more. Meek knows the language of the natives, the customs of the people, respects them, has a sense of organization and a keen managerial style. And he carries it off with a slight smile and obsessive agreeableness. Tallboys knows how to mix watercolours.

Added to this, The burglars, now ensconced in this place with the money they got from the pearls, are bored. Susan “Sweetie” Simkins is now passing herself off as The Countess Vabrioni complete with accent. Miss Mopply plays her maid and is fully recovered to robust health. And The Honourable Aubrey Bagot is now free to look dashing in a white suit (kudos to costume designer Joyce Padua) and talk about religion to his heart’s content, that is until his furious father, The Elder (an irascible Patrick Galligan), finds him and tells him how disappointed he is in his religious son. The Elder is a confirmed atheist. Lots of fireworks between father and son on these subjects. There is also Sergeant Fielding (Martin Happer) who has a word or two about duty, women, men, relations, relationships etc.

Director Sanjay Talwar efficiently, effectively establishes each character and their place in that world. He uses the space really well and I note that characters are always on the move in order to command attention. It’s not wasteful movement. It’s effective. His direction if full of whimsy, impish humour, respect for the text and inventiveness in realizing Shaw’s dense philosophy.  

Comment. The cast is very fine and the result is a bracing production that tackles the issues, and gives the actors space to let the arguments breathe and sink in. Sure, Shaw is talky. He wrote this in 1932 when he was 76 years old. He has a lot to say. He always does. And it’s fascinating.

The Shaw Festival Presents:

Plays until: Oct. 8, 2022.

Running Time: 3 hours.

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1 Manon June 26, 2022 at 9:44 am

Such a good way to spend an evening. The acting was phenomenal…so impressed with their rendition of the text. Great quality performance. Highly recommend it.