Bernard Shaw’s cracking farce of a romantic drama takes place during a Bulgarian and Serbian war. Fighting on behalf of the Serbians, Swiss Officer Bluntschli sneaks into the home of Bulgarian Major Petkoff and woos Petkoff’s already-betrothed daughter Raina. Over the course of three acts (and two! intervals), we follow the romances, deceptions, and manipulations of the upstairs-downstairs host of characters.
This is director Paul Miller’s sixth Shaw at Orange Tree over the past eight years and his prowess with the Irish playwright is on superb display in this production. Arms and the Man is not only well-paced, but perfectly cast. The two intervals help to create a passage of time and allow for a nice turnover of sets by Simon Daw. Mark Doubleday’s lighting is subtle but effective, relying heavily on candlelight in Act One.
Raina is played radiantly by Rebecca Collingwood and Alex Waldmann’s Bluntschli likewise balances that tricky feat of sincerity combined with heightened melodrama. As Sergius, Alex Bhat is utterly ridiculous, clownish, and entirely pitch-perfect. Shaw has written contradictions of character, morals, and class on the page and these performers have uncovered it all beautifully. Miranda Foster’s Catherine and Jonathan Tafler’s Major reveal so much through their glances and eyes, Tafler’s cluelessness a real delight to encounter.
Arms and the Man is enjoying a well-deserved and impeccably executed revival making for an uproarious evening at the theatre. This production is seldom staged and should not be missed in its current rendering.
Arms and the Man runs through 14 Jan at Orange Tree Theatre.
Review Matthew Pierce Photos Ellie Kurttz