Long, long ago, way back in 1977, before Andrew and Phil met, and “fiery philosophical debates” asking “fundamental questions about how we live” (oh dear) could still occupy the glittering West End rather than film-to-play adaptations or jukebox musicals, Phil saw the RSC production of Man and Superman at the Savoy Theatre starring Richard Pasco, Susan Hampshire, Nigel Havers and a vintage car.
Coincidentally, Andrew (who must have been struggling through puberty at the time) saw the same production in Malvern. Ain’t life strange?
The National’s entire run of George Bernard Shaw‘s play is sold out. Actually that’s Bernard Shaw these days. The National have dropped the George as (“Don’t George me!”) Shaw never liked the name apparently. How thoughtful of them. Bernard must be very grateful wherever he is. Hell hopefully, as he sees it as a much more fun place than Heaven in this play.
And if you can’t get a ticket for Man and Superman do not confuse it with the heavily punctuated It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane… It’s Superman currently at the Leicester Square Theatre, which has just accrued a glorious 1 star review from Time Out.
Anyhoo, Andrew had got behind on his homework on this one, but was probably wishing he was off to see IaB…IaP…IS to wallow in the one stariness of it all, as, a few hours before the 7pm start, Phil received a panicky email from him:
The complete “Man and Superman” has four acts and can run more than five hours…
The first, second and fourth acts of Man and Superman are a romantic comedy in which Jack Tanner, an upper-class anarchist and descendant of Don Juan, is bested by a proto-feminist woman, but the third act is a lengthy dream sequence in which Tanner turns into his libidinous ancestor and conducts philosophical debates in the Underworld.
This “Don Juan in hell” section was omitted from the 1905 London premiere and most productions since, largely because it takes the running time well past four hours. But Fiennes and Godwin held a reading of the full text last January and chose the satanic option. “Reading the full text,” says the actor, “it was clear that, uncut, it’s unwieldy but we also felt that a lot of the power resides in the third act – and lines make more sense in the fourth act because of it.”
The safety curtain made an appearance and we waited for about 15 minutes as the mess was cleared and replacement props were found. Glorious stuff, though we did muse on what time we might eventually emerge from the theatre. 10.45pm as it happens. Not bad going for a first preview that had estimated a 3 and a half hour running time anyway.
Anyhoo, we were surprisingly riveted. Fiennes energetic performance and playful tone makes his character compelling throughout, Varma is strikingly feisty and charming in her manipulations, McMullan is hilarious in both his roles and Shaw’s text is sparky, complex and over-stuffed with debates that have enough wit to keep just the right side of bombast.