Photos Reviews

Arms and the Man

November 2005

by George Bernard Shaw, directed by John Marshall


Catherine Petkoff - Margaret Butt

Raina Petkoff - Hannah Wilmington

Louka, Raina's maid - Angela Wallwork

The Man - Anthony Morris

Russian Officer - Cass Thorne

Nicola, household steward - Stewart Price

Major Paul Petkoff - James Stonall

Major Sergius Saranoff - Christopher Redwood

Production Team:

Director - John Marshall

Production Manager - Margaret Butt

Stage Managers - Rosemary & Bryan Stephenson

Set Designer - Clare Girvan

Set Construction - Nick Jones

Costumes - Isla Morgan

Lighting - Ben Fricker

Sound - Ron Murray

Props - Rose Gander, Lesley Trist & Gordon Halliday

Prompt - Sheila Wall

Publicity - Margaret Butt, Angela Wallwork & Christopher Redwood

Posters - Philip Keen

Programme - Philip Jones

Front of House - Mary Jones


From Estuary News:

The whole play was carried wonderfully by Anthony Morris as Bluntschli...

Funny old business, 'am dram'. Why do we do it? Dreams of stardom? Thinking that we can do better than those second rate soap stars on telly? Pure showing off? Or maybe the strange desire to make fools of ourselves in public. Sometimes we are successful and the show is a great hit, sometimes it is an unmitigated disaster and everyone blames everybody else. All too often it is mediocre and damned with faint praise.

The Estuary Players' performance of Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man at the Matthews Hall managed to land itself between competent (in the best sense of the word) and a great success. That might seem to be a rather wide margin of criticism but it is how it came across. George Bernard Shaw seems to be out of fashion these days so it was quite a daring decision to attempt the play. I last read it about 40 years ago and thought it stuffy and out-of-date. Shaw called it an 'Anti-Romantic Comedy' and I went to see it with some trepidation. How refreshing then to find that it has a message still relevant to modern times especially in the heated arguments about the futility and hypocrisy of Britain and America's latest overseas adventures.

The play concerns the goings on in a house in Bulgaria during and after a conflict between Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia. The owner of the house, Major Petkoff is an incompetent, self important Bulgarian officer whose daughter, Raina, is a spoiled young lady engaged to Major Sergius Saranoff. Saranoff is feted as a hero having unwillingly led a charge against the enemy's guns. During a battle near the town, a Swiss mercenary, Bluntschli, in flight from the Russians, appears in Raina's bedroom. After initial fright she hears the story of his cynicism for war and his preference for chocolate rather than ammunition and agrees to hide him from a Russian officer (Cass Thorne) with the complicity of her mother and her maid. When the war is over, Bluntschli re-appears - transformed from renegade to successful officer and heir to a chain of hotels. He takes the hand of Raina while Saranoff settles for the maid Louka.

The curtain opened on a simple set which was easily changed from bedroom to garden to library without detracting from the action. Raina, played well by the striking Hannah Wilmington, seemed a little nervous and mannered in the first act but she was, as always, well-supported by Maggie Butt as her mother Catherine and Angela Wallwork as Louka. The scene moved along at a good pace. Act Two took place in the Petkoff s garden where the sub-plot between Louka and Nicola, the sly steward, was developed. The idiotic character of Major Petkoff was brought out by James Stonall with a few fluffs and improvisations which added to the fun while Christopher Redwood's fake hero, Saranoff, came over as pompous and vainglorious. Hannah seemed to have relaxed into her role by this time. In the final scene in the library where the denouement took place, the acting really got under way and brought the drama to a successful conclusion.

The whole play was carried wonderfully by Anthony Morris as Bluntschli whose transformation from scared runaway to efficient, bourgeois mercenary was a pleasure to watch. He treated his soldiering as a car salesman would treat his trade, much to the scorn of his erstwhile enemies.

I did wonder whether the play could have been adapted to modern times but, on second thoughts the sight of the characters in their ridiculous tin soldier uniforms added to the sense of futility and hypocrisy of war. The comedy was well pointed-up and the best scenes were the ensembles where director John Marshall made sure that they appeared natural and unselfconscious. Altogether the performance was a great success with good acting, deft direction, and well-paced comedy, which carried the underlying message.

Did Raina and Bluntschli live happily ever after? I doubt it. But wouldn't it be wonderful if all soldiers carried chocolate instead of bullets?

- Reviewed by: Roger Mathewson


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