Upton Theatre Group go to Cineworld

“Man and Superman” at Cineworld, Didcot Thursday 14 May 2015

As it unfortunately turned out, only 13 of us made it to Cineworld to see the live screening of Shaw’s “Man and Superman” from the National Theatre. Not very many other cinema-goers joined us – indeed, we were told that a mere 50 tickets had been sold. Who knows why? The reviews had been very complimentary, and the theatre performances had sold out.

I agreed with the critics and the audience that gave the play a standing ovation. It is immensely long – 3 hours 40 minutes even after cuts – but it did not pall. It’s a play of ideas and fulsome, but witty, speeches, but the sets and the characterisation captured and then held the attention. It’s a bit weird, with an apparently superfluous scene about Don Juan – who doesn’t feature in the rest of the action, though he gets a number of mentions – in Hell, but there are plenty of clever jokes about the relative merits of Heaven and Hell, and full use was made of the facilities of the Lyttleton stage. The plot, which also takes in a London house in mourning, along with European bandits and a seaside resort, is well crafted but hard to swallow, yet moves at such a pace that you have no time to quibble. It’s not so original a story either (whatever Shaw himself claimed) with distinct echoes of Beatrice and Benedick or Petruchio and Katharina but it is delivered with such verve and panache that you can almost persuade yourself that the unlikely couple weren’t going to get together at the end.

Amongst the actors, pride of place must go to Ralph Fiennes as Jack Tanner, an anarchic philosopher who finds himself unexpectedly the guardian to a dead friend’s daughter. Apparently, the part is one of the longest in the repertoire, but Fiennes’s delivery was masterly, often fast but always intelligible, and at the time so utterly credible. But he was perfectly supported by the rest of the company, none of whom I had heard of before; even the tiniest roles were neatly differentiated, and at the level of a romantic comedy, convincing.

Add to that the fact that the camera directs your gaze, so you don’t miss anything important, and affords you fantastic close-ups never possible from the back of the circle. I’m a total convert to live screenings – how else am I going to see productions from the Met? – and I had a thoroughly entertaining evening. Such a pity that so many missed a real treat.

Malcolm Wright

22 May 2015