Misalliance (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

Posted: January 3, 2018 in Theatre

Writer: George Bernard Shaw      Director: Paul Miller 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Kicking off 2018 with a 109-year-old play, it is a great feeling to be one of the younger members of an audience again. During Paul Miller’s tenure here, the Orange Tree has embraced cutting edge theatre with considerable success, perhaps causing raised eyebrows among traditional supporters; however, the revival of a classic drawing room comedy such as this is sure to encourage a dusting off of Richmond’s zimmer frames and, as theatre must be for all, there’s nothing wrong with that!

The misalliance in question is between the hard-up aristocratic family headed by Lord Summerhays (Simon Shepherd) and the wealthy middle-class shop owners, the Tarletons, presided over by blustering patriarch (splendid Pip Donaghy) and fussing matriarch (delightful Gabrielle Lloyd, resembling a reincarnated Katie Johnson). Their traditionalist son Johnny (Tom Hanson) fiercely opposes the impending marriage of their independent minded daughter Hypatia (Marli Siu) to Summerhays’ son Bentley (played by Rhys Isaac-Jones as so camp that he would have been risking jail every day in the Edwardian era). For much of the first act, characters talk too much and complain about others talking too much, but this is George Bernard Shaw and too much talking is inevitable. When a two-seater plane crash lands on the Tarleton’s lawn, the play gains wings.

The pilot is penniless toff Joey (Luke Thallon) and his passenger is exotic Polish acrobat Lina Szczepanowska (Lara Rossi). They ruffle feathers, but another intruder, a gun-wielding Marxist (terrifically angry Jordan Mifsúd) makes them fly. What had been a witty but wordy piece now becomes weird and wacky. Shaw’s left wing social and political views all get a full airing, but they are never allowed to weigh down the comedy. Miller’s successful revival of Terence Rattigan’s French Without Tears, here in 2015, showed that the way to energise dated comedy is to cast promising young actors and give them free rein to let rip. He uses the same formula here, with seven of the cast of ten being relative newcomers and the result is sparkling screwball hilarity that should appeal to all ages, including those even younger than myself.

Performance date: 2 January 2018

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