THEATRE

Despots and deceivers

John Bemrose July 25 1988
THEATRE

Despots and deceivers

John Bemrose July 25 1988

Despots and deceivers

THEATRE

GENEVA

By George Bernard Shaw Directed by Christopher Newton

THE VOYSEY INHERITANCE

By Harley Granville-Barker Directed by Neil Munro

One of the joys of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., is its elegant 19th-century Court House Theatre. Seating a mere 344 people on three sides of its square performance area, it is the most intimate of the

festival’s three stages. Two plays that recently opened there, George Bernard Shaw’s 1938 political farce, Geneva, and Harley Granville-Barker’s 1904 drawing-room drama, The Voysey Inheritance, fit into the Court House as though they were made for it. Both productions are graced with a high level of well-observed detail—a quality that would have been lost in a larger hall.

Joe Ziegler, the star of The Voysey Inheritance, has had to strain his light voice when performing in larger theatres. But in the Court House, he is at his ease, giving an impressively modulated portrayal of young Edward Voysey, the idealistic son of wealthy London solicitor Trenchard Voysey Sr. (Douglas Rain). Edward’s discovery that Voysey Sr. has been illegally investing his clients’ savings for his own gain plunges him into a moral dilemma: he must decide between attempting to right his father’s wrongs and simply abandoning the older man. Granville-Barker’s com-

plex exploration of Edward’s problem is considerably enriched by the production: affluent Edwardian England, with its lackadaisical London workdays and its country weekends in oak-panelled rooms, comes vibrantly alive.

From the smooth realism of The Voysey Inheritance, it is a long leap to the brilliant bombast of Geneva. Shaw wrote the play to pillory three contemporary tyrants who plunged Europe into war: Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, whom the playwright respectively nicknamed Ernest Battler (Al Kozlik),

Bardo Bombardone (Michael Ball) and Gen. Flanco de Fortinbras (Ian D. Clark). By a series of improbable events, the trio ends up before the International Court in The Hague, where the three attempt to defend their policies against the accusations of some of their wronged citizens. Shaw makes them thoroughly ridiculous in the process. “War stimulates the population,” says Ball’s hilariously pompous Bombardone. “Women cannot resist a soldier.”

The increasing chaos in the courtroom is closely observed by the secretary of the League of Nations (George Dawson), whose mobile face becomes a play in itself. Comically awash with crosscurrents of disgust and alarm, it provides a fascinating focal point. Dawson’s superb performance might have been lost on a larger stage. But in the Court House, it only proves that with certain kinds of theatre, smaller is frequently better.

-JOHN BEMROSE