Jonathan Tafler stars in Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man at The Orange Tree Theatre, marking Paul Miller’s final production as Artistic Director, following his lauded rediscoveries of Shaw’s other early plays How He Lied to Her Husband, Misalliance and The Philanderer.
Miller directs Kemi Awoderu, Alex Bhat, Rebecca Collingwood, Miranda Foster, Jonah Russell, Jonathan Tafler and Alex Waldmann.
The production opens at The Orange Tree Theatre on 23 November, with previews from 19 November, and runs until 14 January 2023. It will be available to watch via OT On Screen between 17-20 January.
You’re appearing in Arms and The Man at The Orange Tree Theatre, how would you describe the play?
Shaw describes it as an anti-Romantic comedy but it is in fact very romantic – everyone starts out with the wrong partner and ends up with the right one. Well, my wife and I stay together but we seem to be a very happy, long established union – despite the odd bit of bickering.
Miranda Foster, who plays Catherine Petkoff, my wife, is quite sure that when her character takes me off to show me the workings of the new electric bell they will be sharing more than an interest in home improvement.
Why do you think Bernard Shaw’s play remains so relevant today?
The play is set against a war on the European mainland which would suggest parallels with the awful events in Ukraine but one could go too far with that. The play contrasts the reality of war with ideas of glory but it is essentially a comedy, and something that will ideally suit an audience who want a Christmas entertainment that has a few more interesting ideas than the local panto.
You’re playing Major Petkoff, what do you like and dislike most about the character?
I asked Paul if I could play the part and was surprised and delighted when he said yes. I know the play well – I was Bluntschli, the chocolate cream soldier, at University ( Alex Waldmann in our production) and my Dad was in it for the Old Vic in 1945 with Olivier and Richardson. He played Nicola, the superior servant, played for us by Jonah Russell.
Now I am too flipping old to play anything but Petkoff but it is a lovely part – when he is on there is generally a bit of fun to be had. He puts me in mind of the older Ralph Richardson and also I think of Wilfrid Hyde-White, who was a great friend of my Dad’s, and whom I knew as a child. Both were charming, genial characters and I think he is in that vein.
This will be Artistic Director Paul Miller’s final production for the Orange Tree, what’s it been like working with him on this play?
Couldn’t have been nicer – Paul likes actors which, surprisingly, not all directors seem to do. He is always kind and supportive and it helps greatly that he is a Shaw expert, having successfully directed so many of his plays. And having done so much at the Orange Tree he totally understands the theatre and the audience and brings a reassuring confidence to proceedings.
You’ve appeared at The Orange Tree previously, what are you looking forward to about coming back?
It is a lovely place to work because all of the team – stage management, design, production staff – are so good at their jobs and so kind and nice. Nobody makes a fortune so we are all there for the love of it and because we want to do good work.
I love working in the round and have also played at the Royal Exchange in Manchester a few times – that is a thrilling space but this is even more challenging because it is so intimate and the audience are so close to you. There truly is nowhere to hide! I have actor friends who have come to see me in shows and remarked that they love watching things there but would be too terrified to appear at the OT themselves. It is a very energising space and working in the round always seems to me to increase the possibility of the show being a little bit different every night.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking tickets to see Arms and the Man?
You can buy me a drink afterwards if you like!