THE DARK LADY OF THE SONNETS and OVERRULED
by George Bernard Shaw.
Pentameters Theatre 25 Heath Street/Oriel Place NW3 6TE To 19 October 2013.
Tue-Sat 8pm Sun 5pm.
Runs 1hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7435 3648.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 October.
Passion and performance given earnest and provocative consideration in rare Shaw revivals.
A brief outing for two short Shaws, a pair of comic reflections on theatre. In the Dark Lady Shakespear (sic) visits his mistress and muse in Westminster Palace gardens at night, accidentally accosting a sleepwalking Queen Elizabeth. Intriguingly, and coincidentally, Shaw shows Shakespeare in the mode of T S Eliot, noting fragments of others’ speech to insert into forthcoming scripts.
Sure of his artistic prowess as Elizabeth is of her royal prerogative he gives bold answers, to his lover’s distress. And his talk soon turns to the commercial playwright’s misfortune, having to give audiences what they want, leading to an argument for a subsidised national theatre. The Queen agrees in principle, but cost considerations seem destined to put the idea back by centuries, rather than years.
Written in 1910, the play came at a time when Shaw, like his greatly respected friend Harley Granville Barker, was active in work to establish a National Theatre, then very directly linked to the performance of Shakespeare.
In Overruled the controversialist in dialogue takes issue with farces. Passion overrules propriety and reason and misunderstandings about marital status take people into deep waters, eternal love cut short by the sound of approaching spouses’ voices. But, Shaw notes, those who propose irregular relationships are often the most fastidious in their behaviour.
Palace gardens are replaced by that of a modern hotel, and the argument, complex but in the contemporary style, brings some easing of manner among the young cast. Michael Friend’s productions have a duly comic spirit and such neat details as the nervous Warder who’ clearly helping Shakespear (sic) start on Hamlet, or the surprise at learning about each other’s marriages in Overruled’s Lunn and Mrs Juno.
There’d be even more to enjoy if the actors took the lines at a more considered pace. Much modern dialogue can be handled in single sweeps, but in Shaw a single sentence can convey an argument, while due weighting bring out detail and dialectic.
This mainly affects Overruled, with its intricate rationalisations of emotions; the Dark Lady’s comedy, with its familiar Shakespearean references, comes clearer into the light.
The Dark Lady of the Sonnets
A Warder: Jesse Cooper.
Shakespear: Steven Bradley.
Queen Elizabeth: Bethany Blake.
The Dark Lady: Katie Burchett.
Mrs Juno: Katie Burchett.
Gregory Lunn: Steven Bradley.
Sibthorpe Juno: Jesse Cooper.
Mrs Lunn: Bethany Blake.
Director: Michael Friend.
Designer: John Dalton.
Lighting: Oliver Edwards, Penny Rischmiller.