Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman" shown in theaters in US directly from National Theater in London

The National Theater in London has offered satellite screenings of the satrical play “Man and Superman” by George Bernard Shaw on screens on US theaters.  I saw this today at the Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax Va., a weekday afternoon, 3-1/2 hours including intermission and interview with the director, in a large auditorium before a 2/3 full audience  I wonder how many attendees were English teachers.  I didn’t see any large high school classes. 

The best direct link is at the National Theater, where the director explains the controversial (and sometimes extraneous) Act III, subtitled “Don Juan in Hell”, before the play come back to conclude in our world, is here.  Also note the cast link. Sim Godwin directs. Ralph Fiennes plays John Tanner (aka Don Juan), Indira Varma is Ann Whitefield (Ana), Nicholas le Provost is Roebuck Ramsden, and Tim McMulan is Mendoza (the Devil).
The music is interesting, using excerpts from Mozart operas (often “modernized” with dissonance and polytonality, in the spirit of an Andres “recomposition” – the National’s notes give Michael Bruce as the composer), sometimes modernized, a lot of it (but not all) from Don Gioavanni.
I remember, after my senior year of high school in 1961, my best friend said he had read the play on his own, as well as “Lord of the Flies” (which would eventually become standard literature in high school freshman English).
The play opens with a long scene in a library in a private home around 1900.  A lawyer is discussing the will of Mr. Whitehood, and indeed the “dead hand” in the will, as to who will take care of daughter Ann.  Two men, Roebuck and Tanner, are supposed to look after her. Ann accepts Tanner as her guardian, but much of the play deals with her desire to get him (as an older and wealthy bachelor) to marry her, as opposed to the young and struggling Octavius (Ferdinand Kingsley). 
Tanner is also a somewhat “schizoid” intellectual, having authored “The Revolutionist’s Handbook and Pocket Companion”, indeed a “manifesto” (free on the Gutenberg server here ).  Some of his ideas are anarchistic, but he longs to be free and self-defined.  Much of the dialogue contains the moral paradoxes surrounding (heterosexual) marriage, as an institution that defines people as well as social structure.  The play may well direct indirectly today from the gay marriage debate.   There is the idea “write a manifesto, then see the world.”  Tanner also mentions the idea of "upward affiliation" in relationships, and important idea to me (and to conservative author George Gilder, who talked about it in 1986 in "Men and Marriage").  
The structure of the play draws parallel between Tanner’s life on Earth, and the possibility of what his afterlife would be like, with the long Third Act in “Hell”, which looks more agreeable to Tanner than Heaven, with its gratuitous familial relationships. 
But an earlier act, set in the mountains in Spain, where Tanner consorts with other anarchists and soldiers (some of them very attractive) is curious.  In the final act, the character Hector Malone (Nick Hendrix) enters the debate on marital values, appearing for part of the time in shorts with curious effect.

The broadcast shows the stagecraft and audience.  The interview during the intermission seems to be done on the banks of the Thames.  The experience is like a day trip to London for $20, without airfare or the TSA.
Wikipedia attribution link for photo by Bloodhounds of London’s South Bank, including Royal National Theatre, under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 license.  I did visit the West End in 1982, but not the South Bank.

(Originally published 5/20;  URL title typo fixed and republished 5/25. ) 

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