Chris Eldon Lee reviews “Arms and The Man”, which is at Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Mold until Saturday 24th May 2014.
Deconstruct George Bernard Shaw’s charming play to its core and it’s a curtain twitching farce about a fur coat.
But, being an early advocate of ‘natural acting’, he’s lovingly created seven adorable characters to act out his “perfectly genuine play about real people’. So ‘Arms and the Man’ becomes a comfortable comedy about how to deal with tricky situations with tact and diplomacy…most of the time.
We’re in the Balkans in the Spring of 1894 and a fleeing Serbian soldier takes refuge in the boudoir of a beautiful Bulgarian blond. Captain Bluntschil is actually a Swiss mercenary fighting for money, but he’s definitely on the other side. However, he has two things in his favour, dashing good looks and humility. Raina’s current beau is a Bulgarian major who lacks the humility. So her head is turned and she decides to hide her visitor, with predictable consequences.
Director Emma Lucia has chosen her cast exceptionally well. Antonia Kinlay (pictured) makes a spirited leading lady with enough innocence to follow her heart and enough nous to control the complications. Kinlay plays the balance between youthful desire and considered position just right.
The blooded and exhausted Daniel Hawksford delivers Shaw’s down-to-earth military philosophy with the wisdom of a seen-it-all war veteran. Lying to save a life is no dishonour. Leaders are either brave heroes or, more likely, suicidal fools. And in battle you’re more likely to survive if you have chocolate creams in your ammunition belt, rather than bullets. And so Raina falls for her “chocolate soldier”.
The key comic character is his rival in love and war, Sergius, played as a preening peacock in tight trousers by Daniel Llewellyn-Williams. He strokes his curling moustache as he relives his ludicrous cavalry charge to impress Raina. He’s a ridiculous figure who looks for all the world like Robbie Rotten in Children’s TV’s “Lazy Town”. But even he has time to expose Shaw’s expedient views about how “all is sham in love and war.”
Robert Blythe does an excellent job (as usual) as the duffer daddy, struggling to keep up with the plot; and Sian Howard is delightfully girlish as the chocolate scoffing matriarch who willingly becomes her daughter’s partner in deceit.
All ends happily of course, especially when, in a moment of beautifully understated social satire, the family discover the “chocolate soldier” has inherited more horses than they’ve got.
Mr Shaw certainly knew how to write well-made plays and Theatr Clwyd definitely knows how to produce them. So this is a show you can safely take not one, but both your grannies to.
Visit www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk for bookings & information about Clwyd Theatr Cymru.
Photo : Catherine Ashmore