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Newbury Dramatic Society - Arms and the Man

3rd to 5th July 2003.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Newbury Dramatic Society: Arms and the Man - New Greenham Arts, 3rd to 5th July 2003

A minor war in the Balkans may be commonplace, but in Shaw's 19th century Bulgaria it was a more civilised affair with the officers of the winning and losing sides socialising as though they had just finished a cricket match. At the start of the play, however, the war is still on, and an enemy soldier bursts into the room of Raina, daughter of an affluent military family. The impact of meeting him, and his subsequent peacetime return, affect the future of Raina and other members of the household.

Fenella Newton gave an animated performance as Raina, showing a good range of expressions and emotions as she had to deal with the turmoil in her life. As the Swiss Captain Bluntschli, from the Serb army, Sid Marshall had rugged good looks but the charm was less obvious. The first scene didn't generate the chemistry needed between the two of them, although later in the play he came across better as the well-organised Swiss bureaucrat.

Zandra Forder was very good as the maid Louka; surly with her mistress, disdainful towards the butler Nicola, and flirty with Raina's fiancé Sergius. Alistair Parry, as the cad Sergius, was slightly over the top, but gave the best performance of the evening, bringing out the best in both Louka and Raina. Mike Cole, as Major Petkoff, gave a strong performance as a bluff old cove, and raised the level of the production. Other parts were played by Ian Martin, Jean Divall and Jay Andrews.

Although there were good individual performances, Rebecca Girdler's production as a whole failed to gel. When the soldiers came back from the war, they were greeted as though they had just been for a walk in the park. The production was too stilted and needed more animation and reaction, and there were too many prompts.

The play is difficult to stage because of the three different scenes. The set looked good despite the plain backing, although I would have liked at least a few token books in the library. Shaw describes it as "not much of a library", and a small bookcase could have covered the big window, hiding the glare from the lights.