Cross George Bernard Shaw, a killer cast, and the National Theatre’s props and staging budget and what do you get? A pretty epic night out at the Theatre (and I mean epic in both the sense that it’s good and that it’s heading towards four hours long…). Last night I had the privilege of being in the audience for the first preview of Man and Superman at the National Theatre, and to cut to the chase – it was great!
Ralph Fiennes plays the lead — Jack Tanner, a Bachelor fleeing from his own heart, to please his mind and warped morals. He led us through a complex, witty narrative – a love story of sorts – that grapples with philosophy, and the meaning of life and happiness. The naturalism is broken with a dream sequence set in hell, with Lucifer and Don Juan (Tanner’s great ancestor) meeting to discuss what it is women and men really want.
After the interval, we met Anna and Don Juan in Hell – or John Tanner’s dream. The excitement which the scene began with – after Lucifer’s prop cart was thrown across the stage by a rogue trap door mechanism – was quickly lost to monologues that, while sparking relatively interesting philosophical debate, were actually very long and, I felt, quite boring.
At times I found myself alienated by out-of-date philosophies. It’s hard to connect with Indira Varma’s Anna when she agrees with Don Juan’s outdated proposal that women only use men to have babies, and only want to have babies in general. Perhaps in 1903 this was a more understandable opinion but its 2015 and I was left feeling that authenticity of the text could’ve been sacrificed to better represent modern values.
Despite being the main attraction, Ralph Fiennes doesn’t steal the show in the way you would expect. It is Tim McMullan who plays both Lucifer and the romantic brigand Mendoza on the mountains who quickens the pace, and pulls us back in when concentration is waning. He rescue’s the dream sequence, with humour and presence, and actually makes it one of the funniest bits in the show.
In both acting, and staging terms this show is a mighty force. When a prop receives its own round of applause you know you’ve done something right. However, despite hardly being able to fault any individual acts of the play, it was simply just too long. We are a culture of kiss me quick entertainment with waning attention-spans,and asking people to squeeze into uncomfortable seats, and try and concentrate for a full 1hr 45mins each half is just too much. We all left a little weary, and that is not the reaction a piece of theatre like this deserves.
Man and Superman is at The National Theatre from 25/02/2015