Ayot St Lawrence
SHAW BIRTHDAY PLAYS
Shaw’s Corner To 29 July
Runs 2 hours 5 minutes One interval
Tickets 01494 755572
Review Timothy Ramsden 27 July
Two more nights at 6.30 to see Shaw and Barrie in idyllic setting.
Bernard Shaw lived at this house (now owned by the National Trust) in a Hertfordshire hamlet, where the aptly titled Ayot Productions offer professional open-air productions of his and associated writers’ plays over the weekend nearest Shaw’s birthday. Audiences bring their own seats; often a picnic too. When the heavens do the great Bernard the courtesy of a fine night, it’s an idyllic pastoral setting.The narrow acting area means actors are strung out but directors Richard Digby Day and Michael Winter avoid monotony in this year’s double-bill of close encounters. Winter directs Shaw’s The Man of Destiny, where Napoleon almost meets his match in a young female spy.
If William Parish’s Bonaparte and Lauren Fedyna’s Strange Lady (Shaw’s term) don’t catch the imperial import Shaw undermines, they evoke fun in games-playing, while Parish handles well Shaw’s showpiece dissection of English morality.
Dominic Colchester is splendid as a foolish Lieutenant – despite the French uniform, one of Shaw’s complete English ninnies. Martin Brendel’s innkeeper is fine as the happiest man of all, who knows his place and how comfortable he’s made it.
The curtain-raiser, Digby Day’s revival of J.M. Barrie’s Rosalind, is intriguing. A young man comes across a middle-aged lady, thinking he’s found his actress-sweetheart’s mother. In fact it’s the actress herself, 40 something in reality but playing a generation younger as there are no leading roles for middle-aged women. What’s more she is who she acts – ‘This is my real self if I have one’. Recalled to play Rosalind in London she not only dresses as the daughter but becomes her. Here’s a British Pirandello before Pirandello himself.
Colchester and Toni Kanal as the actress in retreat are both good. And in these miked up days, here’s a cast that plays open-air to hundreds unamplified, with every word clearly heard.