Friday 15 May 2015

Man and Superman - it's a (National Theatre Live) Shaw thing

'Do you and James fancy coming to the cinema on Thursday, with me and Gabs?' said Rachel.  'My treat.'
Cinema? An evening out? Entertainment?  Free entertainment?
'Sure!' I said.
'Exactly!' she said.
Turns out she had tickets for Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw.
'But that's a play thing,' I said.
'It's a National Theatre Live thing,' she said.
Turns out that the National Theatre has started filming certain productions in front of live audiences in the theatre so that us benighted souls out in the boon-docks can get a bit of know, something to save us from our relentless foxhunting, pheasant shooting and kamikaze cider drinking sessions.

I confess my heart sank a bit.  Back in the day I used to review theatre in London and, awful but true, it sort of put me off live theatre. And the one thing that can be worse than live theatre is live theatre filmed.  The only advantage I can see is that you get a decent seat; no chance of being stuck behind a pillar or with an infeasibly tall person plonked in front of you.  Rachel knows me; she could hear the curl of the lip, the crinkle of the nose.
'It's got Ralph Fiennes in it.'
'Oh come on! You know...Ralph Fiennes?  Voldemort!'

I paused.  'Hang about.  How did you persuade Gabs to go?'
There was a very long pause.
'Er...I went a bit heavy on the "Superman" bit and...sort of coughed over the "Man and" bit,' she said.
I nearly choked.  'So my poor little godson thinks he's going to see some version of Superman?'
'Yup,' she said brightly.  'I'm going heavy on the popcorn.'

I really didn't think James would countenance it for five seconds but, to my utter amazement, he shrugged and said, 'Sure.'
'Exactly,' I didn't say.  Nor did I say that it was billed at three hours and forty minutes.  Silence is golden.

Five minutes in and he was glaring daggers at me.  'It's a play!' he hissed.
I smiled brightly and broke open the popcorn.

What can I say?  I'm not going to reprise my theatre critic days but, suffice to say, it was well-acted, very well-acted.  I found myself in awe of Fiennes' memory, above all.  The man (like many men, has to be said) doesn't stop talking, an incessant flow of rhetoric.  The modern setting looked pretty good but sat uneasily with the social set-up (woman needing man as guardian, when father dies).

The highlight, for me, was the hell scene.  Apparently this was commonly excluded from past productions which seems nuts because it is, as far as I see, the crux of the whole production. It's what stops it being another comedy of manners (a reverse Taming of the Shrew, a quasi Emma). Shaw explores the basis of love, the nature of...well...nature, inspiration, eternity and the meaning of life - clothed in Nietzschean concepts of life affirmation and the Übermensch.

Anyhow.  At some point, we left, nearly four hours later (James having given me one of his 'you are the worst mother in the entire world to keep me up so late when I'm in the middle of GCSEs...and for theatre' looks) and walked back to the car.
'I don't get the superman bit,' said Gabs.
I frowned.  Poor lad.  If James had found it interminable, how the hell (ho ho) had he stuck it out?
'I mean, that bit where she says, "Tell me where I can find the Superman?" and the Devil says he hasn't been created yet, and she says that she will look for a father for the Superman.'
We looked at him.  'Huh?'
'So he hasn't evolved yet, right?'


1 comment:

Frances said...

Jane, this post brought me back to some memories from my own teenage long ago. Three friends and I were regular volunteer ushers at a theatre affiliated with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. We did our ushering on Saturday matinees and were introduced at that tender age to Beckett, Ionesco and other heavy dramas

I cherished those experiences, and think it helped to feed my wish to move to NYC, to see more theatre, and then to experience fine drama on London stages. Perhaps interestingly, my parents never attended any of those Virgina Museum theatre performances.