Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw

Melbourne Theatre Company

At Playhouse until April 4, 1998

Reviewed by Kate Herbert on or around March 9, 1998

Pamela Rabe in MisallianceIt’s no wonder George Bernard Shaw so accurately depicted both the middle and the upper classes. He married money and was able to indulge his socialist philosophies, modern opinions and his dilettante-ish dramatic writing.

Evidently the irony of this alliance eluded him; not so the ‘misalliances’ in his play of the same name. G.B.S. (Grievous Bodily Satire?) wrote Misalliance in 1910, when the flying machine was relatively new and women were yet to have the vote in England It was a period of rapid social change. Shaw was provocative and his characters speak with an almost contemporary voice at times about the role of women, parents, justice, class system work and social ethics.

The play takes place in the blatantly ‘new money’ Surrey home of underwear manufacturer, John Tarleton, (Max Gillies) His bored daughter, Hypatia (Marta Dusseldorp) is to marry the hilariously foppish and academic Bunny (David Tredinnick) but fantasises about adventures. They materialise in the guise of a runaway airplane that crashes into the garden carrying Joey (Jolyon James) and Lena, an exotic and shamefully independent Polish acrobat (Pamela Rabe).

Shaw’s dialogue is scathingly witty, wicked, irreverent and presumably shocking at the time. The comic characters are painted with broad brushstrokes and most of the cast have a field day with the gags which come thick and fast. They romp about in Tony Tripp’s sumptuous design of a wealthy country estate conservatory.

Tredinnick plays Bunny with an outrageously lip-quivering wimpishness. It is a delight to behold him skipping and prancing tossing barbed jibes at his victims before dissolving into unmanly fits of weeping to avoid a beating. Gillies is masterly and demonstrates his impeccable comic timing as the avuncular Mr. Tarleton who has never had an original idea in his life.

As his earthy wife, Maggie King is superbly underplayed and perfectly paced. Peter Houghton is the consummate buffoon as a pompous young socialist clerk who has come to seek revenge. Pamela Rabe, yet again, is radiant as the sensual, robust unwilling seductress, Lena Szczepanowska.

No social group or ideology escapes Shavian cynicism. The rich, the poor, the educated, the ill-read, the ‘glorious young beasts’, the ageing, the brawny: all get a jolly good tongue-lashing.

Some of the cast seem a little uncomfortable in their characters and the final thirty minutes dragged but the show is light, frothy and funny – if you like Shaw.