BACK TO METHUSELAH by George Bernard Shaw. RSC The Other Place, Stratford upon A

BACK TO METHUSELAH: George Bernard Shaw
RSC: The Other Place
Runs: 4 ¼ hours
Review: Rod Dungate, 5th September 2000

Entertaining hobby horses

Back to Methuselah is Bernard Shaw very much on his hobby horse, or perhaps
more correctly, hobby horses. The five sections which constitute Methuselah follow
an ambitious plan, they stretch from 4004 BC to 31, 920 AD, but were never meant to
be performed in one evening. Within them, Shaw sets out his thinking on the
effectiveness of politicians with and without belief, the nature of belief, the relationship
of men and women, the place of art and science, and mankind as a thinking being
without passion for starters.

The plays delight in quirky intellectual twists and turns and sparkling linguistic
games. Shaw may be on his hobby horses, but they are highly entertaining ones.
However, Shaw is rather unfashionable, perhaps not so much because of his political
ideas, but more because the plays rely on the sense of invigorating debate rather than
action. He is a man of ideas and words which does not fit easily with modern
plays.

This production, directed by David Fielding, is an abridged version of the plays. It
could be hard work taking it all in, in one evening, but the task is made easier with
excellent ensemble performances all round: they bring out the humour and wit and do
not sacrifice the debate. Tim Treloar and Caroline Harris get the evening off to a fine
start as Adam and Eve, in some fun designs by Andrew Walsh. They are soon joined
by the sartorially elegant Serpent, Janet Whiteside, though I did find the introduction
of a hand-held mike became irritating.

At other points I particularly enjoyed Bruce Purchase’s pragmatic but ineffectual
Prime Minister, and Julian Curry’s and Janet Whiteside’s He-Ancient and She-Ancient,
both with cleverly distorted voices.

If there is a difficulty with the evening, it is in the fact the plays are abridged. The
abridgement (excellently done) is four and a quarter hours long: the play becomes hard
to take as it enters its fourth hour despite the unquestionably high standards. On the
other hand, if the plays were not performed in this way, I guess we would never have
chance to see this work which still has much to say to us today.

Cast:
Maid, Mrs Lutestring, Ecrasia: Karen Bryson
Savvy, Zoo, Amaryllis, Nina Conti
Franklyn, Elderly Gentleman, He-Ancient: Julian Curry
Lubin, Prime Minister, Ambrose Martellus: Bruce Purchase
Haslam, Archbishop, Acis: Don Gallagher
Burge, Burge-Lubin, Arjillax: Paul Greenwood
Eve, Confucius, Prime Minister’s Wife, Cloe, Cleopatra: Caroline Harris
Cain, Napoleon, Strephon: Adam Levy
Conrad, Barnabas, Pygmalion: Barry McCarthy
Adam, Zozim, Ozymandias: Tim Treloar
Serpent, Oracle, She-Ancient: Janet Whiteside

Director: David Fielding
Design: Andrew Walsh
Environment Design: David Fielding
Lighting: Simon Kemp
Composer: Anders Sodergren
Sound: Andrea J Cox

2001-09-04 09:18:26

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