Arms and the Man

Thu 22nd – Sat 24th January 2015

reviews

Simon Fearn

at 00:39 on 23rd Jan 2015

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'Arms and the Man' is at once a slapstick farce, a critique of traditional comedies and an attack on the romantic treatment of war. It’s a tough act to pull off, but DUCT’s recent production is certainly an enjoyable two hours of theatre. The comic genius of George Bernard Shaw’s dialogue is capitalised on, whilst the cast definitely put their heart into bringing to life some overblown characters.

Shaw’s theme is the discrepancy between how we present ourselves to others and our 'true selves'; at one point Sergius bemoans the fact that he has half a dozen different selves ranging from war hero to coward. He and his fiancée Raina are engaged in a complex enactment of a fairy-tale romance, which neither of them really believe in. The portrayal of both the character’s personas and their more honest personality traits obviously provides a challenge for the two actors: John Halstead and Izzie Price respectively. John Halstead’s volte-face from Prince Charming to licentious chauvinist is genuinely shocking, whilst Izzie Price deftly shows the distress Raina feels as the cracks begin to show in her idealistic romance.

Thrown into the mix is the endearingly eccentric Captain Bluntschli, a mercenary that seeks sanctuary in Raina’s bedroom from enemy forces. Archie Law throws his gangly figure around the stage and eats milk chocolates ferociously (hence his wonderful nickname: “the milk chocolate soldier”). A particular highlight is the physical comedy of his attempts to stay awake in Raina’s room. Much like the audience, he refuses to feel anything but wry amusement at the melodrama unfolding around him. Despite the fact that his boyish nervousness occasionally translates as an awkward stage presence, the play only really comes to life when he makes his dramatic entrance, popping up centre stage behind the window.

Whilst this production does perhaps lean more towards farce at the expense of some of the more serious aspects of the play, Sam Westwood does a decent job of creating a Wodehouse like milieu for the romantic entanglement to unfold across. The stage alone was enough to have me in titters at the beginning of Act Two- we were presented with a kitsch imagining of Eastern Europe complete with Christmas trees and mountains that wouldn’t look out of place on Eurovision. Another highlight of the stage design was Raina’s hilariously stately portrait of Sergius, which one quickly realises is closer to her idea of her fiancé than the real thing.

Much like a Jeeves and Wooster escapade, this play depends on its ensemble cast of comic stock characters. The supporting actors certainly deliver their roles with gusto. Josh Williams confidently steals all of the best lines as Major Petkoff, a thunderous presence prone to gruff and irreverent exclamations. His reunion with his wife fabulously consists of a series of manly grunts. Nathan Chatelier also does a surprisingly good turn as sycophantic servant Nicola, completely becoming his characters with his stooping form and painfully self-effacing manner.

The production brings out the numerous dramatic twists in the plot with aplomb, particularly the shock and knowingly arbitrary ending. When the curtain fell for the final time it all felt like it was over to soon. Apart from perhaps wishing that the psychological complexity of Raina was explored a little more (she admits near the end of the play to have put on an act since childhood to please her nurse) and the oafish Sergius was made to be a little more sympathetic, the general feeling was one of satisfaction. All involved should be proud of showcasing Shaw’s complex play and breathing life into some fairly tired caricatures.

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Genevieve Burns

at 07:57 on 23rd Jan 2015

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DUCT’s production of Arms and the Man was funny, interesting and professional. The whole team do Bernard Shaw’s play exploring what happens when an enemy soldier jumps through one’s bedroom window justice to create a brilliant performance.

The whole cast did an excellent job of juicing the play of its humour. Throughout, their timing was good and their responsiveness to the other characters on stage was for the most part, brilliant. In particular Josh Williams and Erin Welch’s portrayals of ‘Mr and Mrs’ Petkoff was hilarious. They worked together brilliantly; the braying cognac-coffee drinking husband with Welch’s squawking mother provided a consistently comic backdrop to the piece. It is a testament to the whole team for preventing their characters from slipping into pure caricature whilst still entertaining. The play’s exploration what lies behind the pretence is paralleled with the use of comedy. The humour coexists with and potentially masks the deeper meanings and thoughts that Bernard Shaw has to offer. This is not to the cast’s detriment, rather, their skill.

Although at times Archie Law’s depiction of Captain Bluntschli appeared a little hesitant at times, it was his clear, understated delivery that, while frequently amusing in itself, cut through the layers of ridiculous façade that could burgeon. It was his characterisation of Captain Bluntschli that was the main vehicle for the play’s questioning of status, gender and persona. In addition, Izzie Price managed to convey Raina Perkoff’s transition from squealing, girlish vivacity to an assertive young woman. It is to her credit that rather than a simple binary shift in character that Price was able to reveal the layers of Raina’s personality. Price hinted at without fully disrobing the shrewd wit that lay behind the trivial exterior, skilfully charting the development of Raina.

The production of the piece worked well. The opening scene of blue moonlight falling through the window along with the sweet music set up an ideal that soon was to be dismantled. The set generally delivered in conveying the setting although the directorial decision to occasionally have the characters converse from chairs at opposite sides of the stage sometimes meant that the intensity of those particular moments was lost. The costumes worked well to shadow character. The pomp and pretence of the Bulgarian military contrasted strongly with the humble nature of Captain Bluntschli’s attire, foregrounding the opposite natures they embodied while the ribbon in the hair of Raina emphasised her youthful frivolity.

Arms and the Man is definitely well worth seeing. Full of humour, wit and energy, DUCT are still able to unravel the layers of meaning and leave you with something to chew over as the curtain falls.

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