MAJOR BARBARA by George Bernard Shaw.
Abbey Theatre, 26 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1. To 21 September. 7.30 pm. Saturday Matinee 2 pm.
Runs 3hrs 10 mins, one interval.
Tickets: 00 3531 8787 222 www.abbeytheatre.ie
Review: Michael Paye 9 August 2013.
Unbalanced production that, nevertheless, has its moments.
In one of the earliest lines of MAJOR BARBARA, Charles Lomax, Sarah’s fiancé states, “The cannon business may be necessary and all that: we can’t get on without cannons; but it isn’t right, you know.” Such systems of morality are as useful as an outmoded weapon design. In MAJOR BARBARA, we should be treated to a conversation from multiple classes and class-defiers like Undershaft, concerning poverty, economics and money, alongside blood and slaughter. Instead, this production turns it into a play about a charming arms dealer who seduces his daughter and her fiancé into his way of thinking, as opposed to a play bound up in philosophical systems, religiosity and the pervasive forces of capital that must be worked through to evince any change.
What is the difference between a professor of Greek and an arms dealer? Nothing. They both ultimately worship Dionysius. Hence Cusins’ realisation that he cannot refuse the keys to an arms factory. But Dionysius is nowhere near this staging. It all seems a bit tame. The major clue is in the original production notice from 1905: MAJOR BARBARA: A DISCUSSION, IN THREE ACTS. This, however, was ANDREW UNDERSHAFT’S PROFESSION: AN APOLOGIA, IN THREE ACTS.
Despite Paul McGann’s cool understanding of Undershaft, the major issue comes from Claire Dunne’s monotonal depiction of Barbara. It allows Undershaft too much dominance and fails to convincingly evoke that Barbara’s change of heart by the end is no real change at all; it is a confirmation of her character come large when she sees how she can exercise her desires upon Undershaft’s workmen and hold the power which is so essential in Victorian Britain to making any sort of real difference, particularly for Shaw.
That being said, the production is not unentertaining, and the production values, from sound, lighting, and set design are excellent. But ultimately, the play needs a strong Barbara and this production does not have one.
Ian Lloyd Anderson: Bill Walker
Fiona Bell: Mrs. Baines
Killian Burke: Stephen
Gerard Byrne: Morrison
Clare Dunne: Barbara
Liz Fitzgibbon: Sarah
Emmet Kirwan: Snobby Price
Aonghus Óg McAnally: Charles Lomax
Paul McGann: Undershaft
Chris McHallem: Peter Shirley
Eleanor Methven: Lady Britomart
Caoimhe O’Malley: Jenny Hill
Marty Rea: Adolphus Cusins
Stephen Swift: Bilton
Ali White: Rummy Mitchens
Director: Annabelle Comyn
Set Design: Paul O’Mahony
Costumes: Joan O’Clery
Lighting: Chahine Yavroyan
Music and Soundtrack: Philip Stewart
Fight Director: Donal O’ Farrell