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Posted by : TimothyRamsden on May 29, 2014 - 03:17 PM Archive

by George Bernard Shaw.

Clwyd Theatr Cymru (Anthony Hopkins Theatre) To 24 May 2014.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 May.

Colourful but lacking sharp focus.

In this early (1894) comedy George Bernard Shaw’s target was the kind of nonsense summed-up in the concept of ‘Ruritania’ and romantically distant views of what P G Wodehouse termed “friction in the Balkans”.

In turn, theatrical nonsense got its revenge on Shaw when Oscar Straus took a phrase from this play (if little else) for his operetta ‘The Chocolate Soldier’.

In Shaw, the "chocolate-cream soldier” is practical Swiss mercenary Bluntschli, whose wealth far outstrips the soi disant superiority of the Petkoffs, even if it is in the form of a chain of hotels rather than a grand mansion. The Petkoff pretensions are harmless, the sort of things Shaw would mock in many of his English characters.

Young Raina is foolish only in her childlike admiration for fiancé Sergius, whose victorious cavalry attack was a lucky accident that might have ended-up another Charge of the Light Brigade. Emma Lucia’s production goes for colour and misses the full strength of Shaw’s asperity. Sergius is too much a posturing, self-important fool whose limited intelligence and unoriginality are exaggerated so as to reduce their comedy.

Similarly, servant-girl on the make Louka comes close to the world of operetta in her self-conscious charm. She is a ruthless capitalist in miniature and Shaw, future creator of Andrew Undershaft and Millionaress Epifania Ognisanti di Parerga, sees both the ruthlessness and energy in her. We, at Mold, don’t.

Even Clwyd regular Robert Blythe is subdued in his bluff innocence. This is a sharper, less ornamental play than Lucia allows. Mark Bailey’s set is undeniably attractive, the night-time opening act in Raina’s bedroom played on a truck that wheels into he distance as day replaces night, with the practicalities of the Petkoffs’ daily life.

Yet a cut-out moon includes silhouettes of three towers, more travel-catalogue logo than anything dramatically significant. The awkward trap-door entry from the lower part of the house is inconvenient, though it might be taken as an aspect of the impracticality of the architecture.

Arms should disarm with its wit; here, it seems to ask only to trip into a world of chocolate-soldier box fantasy.

Major Paul Petkoff: Robert Blythe.
Captain Bluntschli: Daniel Hawksford.
Catherine Petkoff: Siân Howard.
Raina Petkoff: Antonia Kinlay.
Major Sergius Saranoff: Daniel Llewelyn-Williams.
Louka: Michelle Luther.
Russian Officer/Nicola: Simon Holland Roberts.

Director: Emma Lucia.
Designer: Mark Bailey.
Lighting: Nick Beadle.
Sound: Matthew Williams.
Composer: Colin Towns.
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