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You Never Can Tell when you're about to witness a classic!

Review by David Munro

WHAT a pleasure it is to attend a first class production of a well written and amusing play. I am referring to Peter Hall’s production of You Never Can Tell now to be seen at Richmond Theatre.

Shaw is a very didactic playwright and can seem interminable but in You Never Can Tell he has sheathed his crusader’s sword and has produced an amusing comedy on woman’s rights and the battle of the sexes.

My only real criticism of this production is that by transposing a speech from its original place in the scene to the curtain it blunts Shaw’s original cynical ending of the father realising and enjoying the fact that his prospective son-in-law is walking into the same marital trap as he, the father, did.

For that is what the play is about; a mother and her three children arrive at a seaside resort after 18 years in Madeira only to meet the husband/father the mother had deserted.

The rest of the play is devoted to untangling the situation and resolving the love affair of the local dentist and the eldest daughter with the help and advice of a waiter at the hotel where the family are staying.

The waiter, impeccably played by Edward Fox, turns out to be the father of the barrister called in by the father to settle his legal position vis-à-vis his two younger children - a typical Shavian tilt at the class structure of his day.

Edward Fox is a joy to watch, his every movement and gesture perfectly portrayed, as a well trained club/hotel servant of the day.

Deferential but not obsequious, unobtrusively ensuring the perfect service that hotel guests required while at the same time dealing with their rather obtrusive personal demands.

Shaw adds to this a philosophical nature which, on the page, is rather strange for one of the 'servant class' but which Edward Fox makes appear as perfectly natural and amusing.

If the rest of the cast were nonentities this performance would have made the evening worthwhile but they are not.

Peter Hall has assembled an ideal cast for the play who manage to ride over the slightly dated dialogue and make it appear thoroughly modern and apropos.

Mrs Clandon, the Mother/Wife, is the archetypal Shavian New Woman, emancipated, writing books on the woman’s place in society and holding men in disdain.

Diana Quick makes her appear human and maternal as well. She presides over a disastrous lunch party with a poise and decorum which is a delight to behold and her interview with Ryan Kiggel as Valentine, the dentist suitor, concerning her daughter is a masterpiece of maternal concern and restraint in the face of a situation she considers unsuitable and not in keeping with her daughter’s best interests.

Her two teenage but sophisticatedly impish children, Dolly and Phil, are the theatrical progenitors of Noel Coward’s Sholto and Gerda in The Young Idea, (a play which Coward subsequently admitted was inspired by You Never Can Tell).

They are witty, rude, uncontrollable and perfectly played by Sinead Mathews and Mathew Dunphy.

Gloria, her elder daughter, whom Mrs Clandon is moulding in her own image, is really a mouthpiece for Shaw’s sermons on women in society and the home.

Nancy Carroll manages to add femininity to her homilies and a sufficient amount of autocracy in her handling of her love for Valentine to make credible Shaw’s winding up of his plot – Valentine is just a younger version of Mr Crampton, Mrs Clandon's husband and is likely to be treated the same way.

Ken Bones as Mr Crampton, whilst allowing you to see why Mrs Clandon left him, reveals sufficient paternal feeling and affection in his scenes with his children to make one hope there is a future in his relationship with them; a beautifully understated and telling performance.

Ryan Kiggell makes Valentine the charming if perplexed suitor as Shaw intended.

His on/off love scenes with Gloria had just the right edge and credibility; at the same time displaying the underlying weakness of character which would allow her to dominate the marriage; another pleasantly subtle performance.

William Chubb, as Finch M’Comas, and Michael Mears, as Bohun the two lawyers called in to deal with legalities and background to the situation, gave the two rather indeterminate characters, as written, a good theatrical life.

Bohun, in particular, has to deal with being his father’s son as well as resolving all the other characters' problems in the course of half an act and it is greatly to Michael Mears credit that he handled his role with credibility, authority and humour.

I do not know whether this production is headed for the West End, it certainly should be, but I would strongly advise you to catch it in Richmond if possible.

If you, like me, regard productions of Shaw with a certain amount of trepidation this on should dispel your fears. You will enjoy the acting and you might even take on board with pleasure Shaw’s proselytising – You never can tell!

You Never Can Tell by George Bernard Shaw.
Directed by Peter Hall.
Designer – Kevin Rigdon.
Lighting – Peter Mumford.
Sound – Gregory Clarke.
CAST: Edward Fox; Diana Quick; Ken Bones; Nancy Carroll; William Chubb; Mathew Dunphy; Madeleine Hutchins; Ryan Kiggell; Sinead Mathews; Michael Mears.

Presented by The Theatre Royal Bath Productions.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ
Mon, Sept 19 – Sat, Sept 24, 2005
Evenings 7.45pm
Matinees Wed. & Sat. 2.30pm.
Box Office:- 0870 060 6651

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