Review by David Munro
ARMS and the Man is one the pleasantest plays of George
Bernard Shaw's Plays Pleasant.
Dealing with the love affair between a romantic girl and an
enemy of her country, it gives meaty parts to not only the protagonists,
Raina and Bluntschli, played in this production by Rachel Ferjani
and Barnaby Kay; but also to her fiancé, the blustering
Sergius (Sam Callis), her father, Petkoff, and mother, Catherine
(Duncan Preston and Gwen Taylor), and the family's maid, Luaka
I had thought, until I saw this production, that the Olivier/Richardson
1944 Old Vic performances were unsurpassable.
And so they are, but my memories of that production were unsettled
by the performances of Sam Callis and Barnaby Kay, both of whom
show signs of being able to assume the mantles of their notable
Barnaby Kay gave Bluntschli more charm, and consequently more
believability, than Richardson did.
His recounting of his assets and the reasons why he should be
accepted as Raina's suitor, in the last act, was a masterpiece
of comic timing.
Similarly, Sam Callis gave Sergius an underlying sense of insecurity
to his braggadocio, which was charming and made his final acceptance
of Luaka as his lover believable.
Both Gwen Taylor and Duncan Preston are masters of their craft
and their personifications of the stuffy, self-opinionated parents
were a delight.
Gwen Taylor's twitch of her bustle, when she realises that her
daughter has fallen for the enemy, was a sight I shall long remember
Sadly, though, Raina, which is a pivotal part, proved too much
for Rachel Ferjani, whose performance was more appropriate to
Daisy Pulls It Off than G.B.S.
Her squeaking and posturing were embarrassing and one could not
really accept that Barnaby Kay's Bluntschli would have given her
a second glance after she had successfully succeeded in concealing
him from his pursuers, which forms the rationale for the play.
One felt that she and Mali Harries should have swapped parts
as Ms Harries gave an assured and strong performance in what is
a very subsidiary role.
However, these cavils aside, this is a very charming and delightful
production and one which, as I have indicated, goes a long way
to obliterate the memories of the past.
This, I feel, must be attributed to Timothy Sheader's assured
and deft direction.
Whilst I found certain longeurs in the first act, which I am
afraid was due to the posturing of Raina, the second act, in the
sure hands of Messrs Preston, Kay and Callis, aided and abetted
by Mesdames Taylor and Harries, rattled along at a brisk and extremely
While this is minor Shaw, it proves in this revival that when
it is well played, he is still a playwright to be reckoned with.
I wish this production well and hope that it will ultimately end
up in the West End, where it belongs.
Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw, Directed by Timothy
Sheader, Designer Robert Jones, Lighting Howard Harrison, Sound
Jason Barnes, Music Corin Buckeridge. WITH: Sam Callis, Duncan
Preston, Rachel Ferjani, Fred Ridgeway, Mali Harries, Gwen Taylor,
Barnaby Kay, Matt Zarb, Derek Bell, Anita Booth, Chloe Billington.
Produced by The Touring Partnership at Richmond Theatre, The Little
Green, Richmond, Surrey. Tickets 020 8940 0088.