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You Never Can Tell

George Bernard Shaw
BBC
(2006)

You Never Can Tell shows George Bernard Shaw in his very lightest mood. It is a comedy about love, marriage and a very real battle between the sexes.

This Play for the Month was first shown on the BBC in 1977 and presents an interesting comparison with Sir Peter Hall's recent revival starring Edward Fox and Diana Quick.

In this case, Judy Parfitt plays the matriarch, Mrs Clandon, a couple of decades on from her desertion by Patrick Magee's Scrooge-like Crampton, a husband whom she should never have married. In the intervening years, she has become a successful writer of the agony aunt of the self-help type bringing up her three children in Madeira.

Now, they return to a fin de siècle British seaside town to enjoy society. However, they get far more than they bargained for in the forms of the men that they meet.

The visitors' team is completed by pretty, strong-willed Gloria, played by Kika Markham, and the two forward "children" Phil and Dolly who will always steal this play and do so in the persons of Richard Everett and Kate Nicholls.

The family's lives are disrupted by the unexpected arrival of their grumpy father, although on first meeting, neither party realises the identity of the other.

His relationship with his wife is mirrored by that between Gloria and her exceedingly handsome beau, Robert Powell's genial dentist, a life form rarely seen on stage and all the more welcome for that. Even more unusually for a tooth doctor, Valentine has not got two shillings to rub together and must live by his charm and its ability to land him a wealthy marital partner.

These rich ingredients are whipped together into a frothy and often very entertaining comedy and, unusually for Shaw, the only serious politicking takes the form of Mrs Clandon's independent feminism.

Keeping the show on the road with impeccable manners and a remarkable calmness is William, a sagacious head waiter played by Cyril Cusack and the man who regularly feels the need to utter the words that gives the play its title. He, along with upright and uptight family solicitor, Ernest Clark as Finch McComas, give great value for money with a display of character acting that never falls below the very highest standard.

This may not be the feisty, campaigning Shaw that we know so well but provides a couple of hours of very pleasant entertainment.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher