Mini-review – Man and Superman – National Theatre

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WARNING: There’s some kind of famous actor in this show and this means that it is massively sold out. However, this is not why I wanted to go, to see yet another stage star polishing his chops at our expense (my expense being 38 quid, an unsupportable price level for my budget): no, I wanted to go because I really, really like George Bernard Shaw and had never had a chance to see this play before.

So: you’re considering seeing this play, and, as a Life in the Cheap Seats devotee, you have one question: is it worth it? Cheap seats are £38 (technically £15 but no chance of finding one of those), time investment (far more important) is 3 1/2 hours. My God. That is a very, very long time to be sat down in a chair. Don’t drink anything beforehand (or during the interval – but do have a bottle of water with you) and I highly advise a small package of chocolate or possibly Mentos.

But, God, you know what? It’s funny. It’s really funny. The story of an anarchist fighting to escape from the love of a conventional (and highly manipulative) woman just seems on the face of it to have no hope as a comedy at all. The anarchist’s obsession with “woman’s highest purpose” – having babies – seems on the face of it to just be so offensive that you can only see him as a villain. But somehow the combination of all of the videos of flowers blooming (in the background) and the scraps of music from Don Giovanni give the whole enterprise this air of the irresistibility of sex (defined as the “reproductive impulse”). Our anarchist is a man who wants to stick with his morals – honesty and truthfulness held highly among them – and, faced with a woman who wants to be loved for who she is (rather than who she pretends to be), he is simply incapable of clinging to the high ground – that is, remaining a bachelor and practitioner of “free love.”

Most delicious and delightful is an extended scene set in hell, with the main actors reappearing as various characters from Don Giovanni (and, well, Lucifer). Now, if they were trying to keep this play down to a reasonable amount of time, this would have been the scene to cut: but, really, it about had me in tears with its endless flagellation of the hypocrisy of society (both ancient and modern, things just haven’t changed). What was that quote? Ah yes, loved this bit: “At every one of those concerts in England you will find rows of weary people who are there, not because they really like classical music, but because they think they ought to like it. Well, there is the same thing in heaven. A number of people sit there in glory, not because they are happy, but because they think they owe it to their position to be in heaven. They are almost all English.” PEALS OF LAUGHER. And, I thought, rows and rows of just these folks were sitting there at the National on this chilly afternoon, only we all were laughing, because, by God (and the devil), this is a funny play, and it hardly matters what name actors are in it (I’m not even going to mention them, they’re all very good): suffice it for me to tell you it WAS good and it was worth forty pounds, buy your Mentos at a nearby cornershop and go see it. Your life will be the richer for having done so.

(This review is for a matinee that took place on Saturday, March 14, 2015. It continues for a while but as it is sold out your best chance of getting tickets is just to leave the page open on your computer screen throughout the day and occasionally hit F5 to see if there have been any returns.)

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