Arms and the Man
George Bernard Shaw
Orange Tree Theatre
The Orange Tree has a well earned reputation for revivals of Bernard Shaw’s plays and this is another delightful example which Paul Miller directs as his last production as Artistic Director. This 1894 comedy comes up fresh as a button and makes a great Christmas treat.
It is set in the home of the Petkoffs, who consider themselves among Bulgaria’s leading families, during their country’s brief war with Serbia in 1885. Major Petkoff is away with the army, as is his daughter Raina’s fiancé Sergius. Romantically inclined Raina and her mother Catherine are thrilled to get news that Sergius has led a daring cavalry charge against the enemy artillery.
During the night, an enemy soldier, Swiss mercenary Captain Bluntschli, climbs up to her bedroom balcony to escape pursuers and holds Raina at gunpoint; but it turns out he is charming and harmless: a “chocolate-cream soldier“ who stuffs his cartridge pouch with chocolates rather than bullets. Raina hides him from his pursuers and she and her mother smuggle him out in an old coat of Petkoff’s. With the war over and a treaty signed, Bluntschil turns up to return it, leading to a whole lot of complications and romantic reversals.
It is set beautifully in period with Simon Daw’s setting providing three rooms in the Petkoff mansion including a library they are so proud of, along with a new electric bell to call the servants, though for Petkoff, their bourgeois pretensions don’t yet embrace daily ablutions: he thinks washing your neck every day gives you a sore throat.
Jonathan Tafler makes the Major a gentle and lively old buffer, affectionately indulgent to his wife Catherine (Miranda Foster) and daughter. Alex Waldmann’s Bluntschli is charming without any sign of the saccharine, sensible and practical: he can even fold maps almost automatically.
Raina may live with romantic illusions but Rebecca Collingwood’s performance shows her well aware of the real world and her own feelings. Alex Bhat’s Sergius is more obviously divided, operatically extreme (and very funny) in presenting his public persona but revealing the real man in private, especially with the Petkoffs' maidservant Louka. who at first is set up to marry their level-headed manservant Nicola (Jonah Russell). In fact it is Louka who most lives in the real world; she is played with both charm and down-to-earth clarity by Kemi Awoderu.
This is a cast working as a fine team while individually shining in a production that will send you home joyful. Don’t miss it.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton