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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 4. 7 April 1970

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw.

George Bernard Shaw's comedy Misalliance was deservedly well received on its opening night at Downstage. The audience, mostly members well fed and laced with wine, were in just the right mood to enjoy this rather wordy period piece. But the fact that the words were Shaw's made all the difference.

Set in 1909 at the country home of a wealthy linen merchant, John Torleton, the play is a carefully engineered and extended confrontation between a typically Shavian selection of straw men: capitalism v. aristocracy; parents v. children; marriage v. ferminism; money and expedient justice v. poverty and injustice. In effect a comedy of manners beefed up with a socialist tract; but very funny fare.

As we might expect everybody has an exquisite talent for articulate self-analysis very like Shaw's own polemical style. Characters are liable to get up and move across stage as if to do something but merely turn around and continue to argue. Shaw's dialogue is captivating—one man in my audience liked to repeat the punch-lines—but the plot creaks particularly at the point where manners turn to farce. Shaw arranges for the next moral issue—the gunman—to arrive deux ex machina and mid-play as if he had walked up out of the audience. In spite of this clumsy introduction, Peter Vere-Jones drew some of the loudest laughs of the evening for his comic bumbling and a pathetic reading of a forced confession. But for me, (perhaps due to his long hair), he still looked as if he had come out of the audience.

The capitalist underwear manufacturer, Mr Tarleton, was vigorously and admirably played by Frederick Betts (who was a magnificent Gregory Solomon in The Price last year). His wife was the incomparable Pat Evison, who realised a fuller and more sympathetic Mrs Tarleton than even the sharply observed character Shaw had provided. Alexander Trousdell was very well cast as Lord Summerhays, the most charming and rationally civilised of them all.

If the elders were all satisfying performances, the younger generation were relatively less convincing. This is very largely due to Shaw's shallower cariacature. The worst in this respect was Lina as the ultra-feminist acrobat. Her dramatic contribution consisted of simplistic feminist propaganda delivered in a brittle Polish accent to the accompaniment of outrageous masculine poses. Nonnita Mann did it all with skilled assurance but gave in to exaggerating the part which was badly short of credibility anyway. The other young woman, Hypatia Tarleton, was brightly played by Susan Wilson with clear movement and delivery which made her a successful Little Miss Shaw. Bryan Aitken as Bentley Summerhays did well though he looked half his twenty-six years onstage and most of the effective characterisation came from what his father said about him. Matthew O'Sullivan played the rather dull part of Johnny Tarleton with his usual reliable competence. Grant Tilly's set, quite properly capturing the spirit and ignoring the impracticalities of Shaw's own directions, was brilliantly apt for the period, beautiful in itself and functional for the cast. Antony Groser produced with taste and skill (which is only a miserly indication of his vital contribution). The show is highly recommended for its irrespressible Shavian wit and very attractive presentation.

Photograph of actors performing