by Lynn on July 18, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Shaw Festival, Jackie Maxwell Studio Thetare, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Until Oct. 7, 2023.

Written by Bernard Shaw.

Directed by Eda Holmes

Set and costumes by Judith Bowden

Lighting by Sophie Tang

Original music and sound by Ryan deSouza

Cast: Neil Barclay

Kristopher Bowman

Rais Clarke-Mendes

Sharry Flett

Sochi Fried

Martin Happer

Richard Lam

André Morin

Rebecca Northan

Tom Rooney

Travis Seetoo

Graeme Somerville

Kelly Wong

Bahareh Yaraghi

A stunningly acted and directed production of Bernard Shaw’s play that is as timely as tomorrow regarding politics, the monarchy, greed and corrupt government.

The Story. It’s “The Apple Cart” as in don’t tip over the apple cart and upset the status quo. Shaw wrote this in 1928, 10 years after the Great War where people thought they will not have to go through that again because it was the war to end all wars. What he is talking about in the play is worse.

It’s about how big business inveigles itself into government to take control of things. It’s about graft. Corruption. Greed.  And the compliance of politicians to go along with it. That sounds vaguely familiar?  But added to that is the monarchy, in this case King Magnus.

According to constitutional law, the Monarch cannot voice an opinion to the Prime Minister—in this case, Joe Proteus, the PM. The Monarch is not to have an opinion, but is to be advised of what is going on in Parliament by the Prime Minister. The Monarch can hint, subtly suggest, but can’t actually give an opinion. However King Magnus is wily. He makes speeches that do express his opinions. Prime Minister Proteus wants him to stop and even to promise he will stop or the whole of cabinet ministers will resign. This is a parliamentary crisis. To make matters worse, most of those in the cabinet are beholding to big business, namely a company named Breakages, and see nothing wrong with it.  In a sense there will be no opposition in parliament. The PM wants the King’s assurance he will do as they say, or he will throw the country into chaos. The King asks for time to make his decision. Five pm that day. The Prime Minister agrees—of course he would have to not to appear as a bully, which he is. And then at the last moment, a new twist appears in the plot, provided by the American representative, which makes the King do a shift in his thinking.

Bernard Shaw is so impish and cheeky. Note the company’s name that has trapped the government: Breakages. The names he’s given to the characters are either from the bible or Greek Mythology. Magnus means “the greatest”.

The Production.  It’s terrific. It’s directed by Eda Holmes with great style and intelligence. She illuminates the nuance and subtlety of an argument by giving it a measured attention, time to evolve.

Designer Judith Bowden has created a stark yet elegant white set: floor, furnishings, props. The costumes for the members of parliament are conservative (no pun intended, well, perhaps a bit), tailored and black. The newest member of parliament is Mr. Boanerges (Martin Happer) the leader of the trade union. He first shows up in his well-worn work clothes to meet King Magnus (Tom Rooney). When he sits in a chair he seems to envelope it in his largeness. Martin Happer as Boanerges sits with his legs spread, as a man wanting to make a powerful point might do.  

When we next see Mr. Boanerges, he is dressed in a tailored dark suit, bowler hat and new shoes which make Mr. Boanerges limp. The shoes are not yet broken in. I loved that touch of business by Martin Happer—the limp. He plays Boanerges as a gruff, straight-talking man who thinks he’s honest, smart and perceptive. Boanerges is defined as a fiery preacher with a powerful voice and that’s how he’s played.

Boanerges is really no match for King Magnus but Magnus, as played by Tom Rooney, is so smooth, accomplished in dealing with all sorts of personalities, he does not make a fool of Boanerges.

In Tom Rooney as King Magnus, we see both the measure of a wonderfully accomplished actor and a playwright who so knows the world in which he writes that he draws in the audience. King Magnus wears a beautifully tailored crème coloured summer suit and tie. The shoes are polished. He is beautifully well-mannered, self-deprecating in order to put his guest at ease, a keen listener and very astute.  Magnus can parse out an argument but never plays the game of one-upmanship until and unless it is life or death. There are no histrionics. Just calm weaving of an argument or challenging the opponent but with respect and care for the person with whom to convers.

As King Magnus, Tom Rooney is definition of a smart, diplomatic King. He greets Boanerges with dignity and respect. We see the nuance and subtleties of the arguments of the King. And when King Magnus is talking to the Prime Minister—an equally wily character, played with arrogance and cunning by Graeme Somerville—then you think you are watching two equals.

It’s delicious seeing how the King out maneuvers Prime Minister Joe Proteus (Graeme Somerville). There are small scenes with King Magnus and his mistress Orinthia, played with self-confidence and arrogance by Sochi Fried and his Queen, Jemima played with sophistication and grace by Bahareh Yaraghi. Each scene shows Magnus in a different intellectual light as well as the women in his life and how smart they are.

There are two women who are members of Parliament. Lysistrata (Sharry Flett) and Amanda (Rebecca Northan). As Lysistrata, Sharry Flett is matter of fact, commanding and frustrated by the ‘old boys’ of politics. As Amanda, Rebecca Northan has an irreverence that makes light of the ‘old boys.’ They hate that. Lysistrata and Amanda support the King in their way—and they too have brains that are formidable, but of course the ‘old boys’ of Parliament dismiss them.

How Shaw maneuvers the arguments of all the players, and even creates the world of them, that are so forward thinking even in our world, is remarkable. Shaw is intellectual, smart, philosophical, wordy, pompous, erudite and funny. But in The Apple Cart he’s talking about the world. The first act is entitled: THE FUTURE. Remember he wrote this in 1928, before Facebook could influence elections, Google and Twitter could manipulate facts, big business polluters and drug companies could get away with poisoning the air and people.

Shaw’s philosophy is fascinating and he can speak eloquently through the mouth of a King, a slippery Prime Minister, the newest member of parliament and smart women.

Comment. I think The Apple Cart is a fine example of Bernard Shaw and the Shaw Festival at their best.

The Shaw Festival presents:

Running until Oct. 7, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes (1 intermission)

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.