There’s something quite lovely about the cut and thrust of witty repartee in a classic old piece of theatre. Plays where words are everything, and movements confined to a raised eyebrow or the dismissive flick of a haughty fan. By LESLEY STONES.
That’s what you get in a charming double bill of two short plays by George Bernard Shaw now running at Sandton’s Old Mutual Theatre on the Square. Both plays are gentle comedies about manners and morals, both in short supply in modern times.
In Overruled we’re swept back to an era of women in long dresses with heaving bodices, gentlemen in tail coats and when “making love” to somebody meant rashly daring to hold their hand.
Shaw has two couples taking a holiday from each other to freshen up their marriages, and the partners inevitably end up smitten by the other spouse. Daniel Janks is fabulous as Mr. Lunn, all buttoned-down guilty desire as he tries to woo Mrs. Juno (Dianne Simpson). Simpson’s forte is facial expressions – rolling eyes and roving eyebrows – but she’s great with the words too as she simpers under the attentive wooing.
Theo Landey as Mr. Juno is also convincing as a man caught between loyalty, love and restrained lust, but it’s Bronwyn Leigh Gottwald as the supercilious Mrs. Lunn who steals the show. She’s wonderful as the stunner who’s utterly bored of childish men forever declaring their love for her.
Shaw’s script crackles with wit and irony as the couples debate whether it’s worse to be guilty in action than it is to be in thought without actually indulging in the deed. Passion isn’t really passion without guilt, as one of the gentlemen eloquently puts it. Overruled is performed much as the long-dead Shaw intended it to be, and it’s a beautifully staged period piece.
For the second half, director Ingrid Wylde has set How He Lied To Her Husband in the present day. The idea works well and the actions and emotions are still surprisingly believable even though modern morals are significantly looser. The problem is that the sentences and manner of speaking are incongruous coming from characters talking in rough Cockney accents and dressed in modern clothing. Although the setting doesn’t detract from the wit and wisdom of the words, it doesn’t enhance it either.
This second play is much more physical, with the verbal sparring between a husband and a love-struck young poet erupting into a nicely choreographed bout of fisticuffs. Now Janks as the husband is all broody menace, while Simpson is still simpering under Landey’s flattering attention. Together the plays are absorbing entertainment, with enough emotional depth as they explore our values and behaviour to make them more than mere historical fluff. DM
Overruled and How He Lied To Her Husband run at Sandton’s Old Mutual Theatre on the Square until 17 March.
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved