Theatre: Major Barbara



After dealing with a head cold for the last few days, the offer to see the first night preview of Major Barbara at the National Theatre with the West End Whingers seemed like a sensible enough diversion. Well... Any excuse for a trip to the theatre for those bloggers of stage... I was wondering whether the usual drinking and carrying on at interval would be so appropriate with the play featuring the Salvation Army, but nobody else shared this view.

I also had a theory that the audience would be full of Salvation Army members. This turned out to be incorrect too. Instead the audience was full of was old people (and bloggers perhaps) and it felt like it was pension day. Old people audiences are great as they laugh at all the right spots and generally don't talk. But they do smell of moth balls and forget to turn their mobiles off. I noticed one old girl in the row in front of me also preferred to read Bernard Shaw's text from a scrappy paperback rather than see it. Some of these senior citizens also take up more room than they realise. I found myself on rather creepily familiar terms with the woman next to me as she rubbed her legs up against mine. Maybe she had a blood clot I don't know but darn those cramped front row stall seats...

As for the play, well it turned out that this production was one of those that the National does rather well. A big set, big lights and an even bigger cast. Shaw's work written in 1915 about ideals, poverty, security and profits seem as relevant today as ever. Laughing at jokes about businessmen buying their way to get honours seemed all a bit too familiar. The jibes (including against Australians - obviously we were just as irritating to Londoners as far back as then), fly about fast enough that it probably helps to have the script with you so you can remember it all. Amongst all the witty banter there were a few startling moments (such as a fight scene at the Salvation Army) that did seem to jolt one back to reality. I could have done without the final audio of bombs falling and exploding. The last scene is set in the arms factory and the stage was surrounded by an impressive display of bombs... Waiting... We know they are going to explode in Europe, Japan, Vietnam, Iraq and so forth...

But anyway, spelling things out in big bold letters aside, it looks set to be a great production. It is a great cast too featuring Simon Russell Beale as Andrew Undershaft, Hayley Atwell as Barbara and Clare Higgins as Lady Britomart Undershaft. Sitting so close to the front and with the actors perched up so high on an elevated stage you could really feel them at work... And you could hear the metal supports of the stage creak and groan too... But maybe that was someone's hip... That old woman next to me was moving about a bit. You can never tell... Worth a look anyway...

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