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New Era - Arms and the Man

24th to 26th November and 29th November to 3rd December 2005.

Here is the NWN review.

Shaw as it should be

New Era Players: Arms and the Man, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Thursday, November 24 to Saturday, November 26 and and Tuesday, November 29 to Saturday, December 3

According to Shaw, a minor war in the Balkans in the 19th century was quite a jolly affair; a bit of a diversion for the officer classes. The Bulgarian officers couldn’t rise above the rank of Major – the higher ranks were Russian – but that was fine for Major Petkoff and his family. His daughter, Raina, finds herself in the thick of it when Captain Bluntschli, an enemy officer, climbs into her bedroom to escape his pursuers. When the war ends, her fiancé Saranoff returns with Petkoff, and Bluntschli joins them and impresses them with his Swiss efficiency.

Jane Robinson was a superior, poised Raina – happily in love with Saranoff but excited by the unexpected Bluntschli. This was a very accomplished performance. Janet Bennett and Peter Hendrickx, as her parents, Catherine and Major Petkoff, were spot on as the unsophisticated middle class couple that Shaw rather patronisingly portrays: the snobbish wife, keen to show off her library and electric bell, and the bumbling husband, glad that the war is over.

Stephen Bennett was excellent as Bluntschli, the Swiss mercenary, “bourgeois to his boots”; a no-nonsense character with enough charm to win the girl in the end. Mike Moors managed to be haughty and caddish as Saranoff, contrasting well with Bluntschli.

Tim Stanton was the manservant Nicola. I felt he could have been a bit more obsequious and unpleasant, but he worked well with Lisa Harrington as a rather mature Louka.

There were strong individual performances all round, but did it all fit together well? The answer is a resounding Yes. The cast worked well as a team, and director Tim Oldham achieved a good pace throughout; so much so that some of the elements of farce in Shaw’s play became more clearly pointed.

A lot of effort had gone into the costumes, and they looked superb. The set tended towards the minimalist, but could have gone further in that direction; the alternative, to go for a more opulent set, would have involved longer scene changes.

I really enjoyed this production. Shaw ends it with Saranoff saying admiringly of Bluntschli, “What a man!” to which I’d add, “What a show!”