“Heaven is the most angelically dull place in all creation”
And the prospect of a 3 hour 40 minute play can be daunting at the best of times and dull at the worst, but the National Theatre’s new production of Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman is anything but dull.
The play propels itself forward in great strides, racing from one razor-sharp line to the next with energy and purpose. The dialogues are witty and fiercely intelligent, putting forward philosophical questions about the purpose of life and then offering entertaining commentary on the farcical way we actually think and behave.
Ralph Fiennes takes the lead role as Jack Tanner, a wealthy bachelor and radical thinker who is entrusted with the guardianship of his old friend’s daughter Ann (Indira Varma). Ann sees Jack as the perfect husband and sets out to ensnare the bachelor and tame his revolutionary ideas. Once Jack realises Ann’s true intensions he flees, only to discover that his attraction to Ann is too overwhelming to escape. What ensues is an exhilarating game of cat and mouse and as Ann stalks her prey we are treated to some of the most entertaining exchanges around on stage at the moment.
Man and Superman is a long play, four acts in its entirety and often the Dream Scene in Act III is omitted because it adds 90 minutes to the play. The NT has not shied away from Dream Scene, instead they have ingeniously woven key parts into the final act and we are treated to an extraordinary dream-debate: heaven versus hell, when Jack meets the Devil. Tim McMullan is brilliant as The Devil, teasing us with a seductive Russell Brand like stance, a savage intellectual prowess and a persuasive manner.
When Jack finally awakes from his dream he discovers that Ann (along with her friends Ramsden, Octavius, Hector and Violet) has tracked him down and it seems he cannot escape his fate.
Ralph Fiennes is terrific as Jack Tanner and sparks fly in the fierce and fiery exchanges with Indira Varma (Ann), there seems to be real chemistry here and the play is all the better for it.
This production of Man and Superman is theatre at its best and, incredibly, by the end one cannot help wondering if the National Theatre should have indulged us in the whole production and included the full philosophical debate of the Dream Scene. This is quite an achievement in itself. As Mendoza say’s in the play: “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.”
The play will be broadcast live via NT Live on 14th May and may be released for further broadcast once the play has closed. For more information, click here: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/