Christopher Newton’s superb production of Man and Superman opens with an image at once magnificent and severe. When the curtain rises, the audience sees an old man in a sober grey suit sitting alone at a desk, exactly in the centre of one of the sparest, most effective sets ever erected at the Shaw Festival. The colors are sombre, the few furnishings sternly Gothic. Three massive white frames define the stage area, creating a heightened sense of visual drama. Conceived by Eduard Kochergin, one of the top theatrical designers in the Soviet Union, the electrifying set amounts to a revolution in the way that the festival presents Shaw’s work. Freed of its usual
realistic Victorian or Edwardian settings, the Shavian vision seems much more up-to-date and exciting. Newton’s production of the 1902 play has a great deal to say to the late 20th century, and it says it with power and style.
At the core of the play is Shaw’s lifelong campaign against what he saw as the built-in hypocrisy of society. Man and Superman’s opening act centres on a scandal: a young woman, Violet Robinson (Julie Stewart), has apparently been left pregnant and unwed by a man whose identity she refuses to divulge. While most of her family and friends recoil in shame from her plight, two stronger, less conventional figures stand by her. One is the eloquent free thinker John Tanner (Michael Ball, in a commanding performance). The other is Ann Whitefie ed with vixenish fervor by Kate Trotter), a spirited woman who is bent on marrying Tanner. While each supports Violet, they argue long and passionately about the nature of love and marriage. Tanner, fearing the loss of his precious freedom, is dead set against both, regarding them as ruses concocted by nature to ensure the
propagation of the species. But he falls ever more in love with Ann in spite of himself, all the while horrified that he is submitting to forces that he despises.
Ball brilliantly conveys his character’s ironic sense of humor. And he is ably supported by the rest of the cast—particularly William Hutt as Roebuck Ramsden. In his first appearance at Shaw since leaving the Stratford Festival last year, Hutt combines expert comic timing with patrician suaveness. But Newton himself deserves the greatest applause. With the help of Kochergin’s set, he has pared down Shaw’s work to its ' es-
sentials, creating a palpable tension between the play’s portrait of conventional social surfaces and th d sexual-
ity seething beneath. The sensual, almost tortured exuberance of his Man and Superman will be re d as one
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