George Bernard Shaw, a staple of the school curriculum, is most often associated with his bigger commercial success; Pygmalion or Candida usually the first to spring to most minds, but it is two of his many short plays which form the double-bill Shaw Shorts which reopens the Orange Tree Theatre following its pandemic closure.
The concept is ideal for the restrictions we still live under, two plays are performed in a little over an hour with no need for an interval, and the socially distanced audience are allowed to enjoy a healthy dose of farce in the form of Overruled and How He Lied to Her Husband.
The first of the two Shaw Shorts to take to the stage is How He Lied to Her Husband, a ‘curtain-raiser’ that Bernard Shaw wrote whist holidaying. The three character play bears some resemblance to Candida, with Henry and Aurora’s older woman/younger man affair mirroring Candida and Eugene. Indeed, in How He Lied to Her Husband the characters even have tickets to watch Candida that evening, but only because Lohengrin has sold out.
Henry’s overly flattering poems about Aurora have gone missing, and Aurora suspects her sister-in-law of pilfering them to expose her affair with Henry, to husband Teddy. As the characters debate the relative merits of coming clean, Teddy returns home to confront the pair.
Whilst by no means a parody of Candida, How He Lied to Her Husband is a very amusing take on a similar plot. Joe Bolland as Henry is the young beaux, hopelessly in love and living in a somewhat fantasy world, but as the play progresses, Henry has to grow up fast and Bolland does a marvellous job of capturing that while retaining the comedy aspects.
Bolland is joined by Jordan Mifsúd and Dorothy Myer-Bennett as Teddy and Aurora respectively, this pairing also appear in the second play of the evening Overruled. This time they don’t play a married couple, but a pair who have met on a cruise ship and embarked on an affair, we as the audience already know their respective partners have also met on a different cruise ship and find themselves in a similar position of amour.
Alex Bhat’s wonderfully expressive performance as Gregory Lunn directs the audience to the absurdity of the situation, his affair with Hara Yannas’ Mrs Juno is less uptight than the other pairing, even if it did come about through classic miscommunication.
Overruled, while focussing on themes of polyamory and seeking out what makes you happy, feels more like a classic parlour romp. It’s impossible not to find the ridiculous situation funny, and take refuge in whichever of the characters happen to line up with your own moral compass.
Paul Miller’s direction amplifies the comedic nature of these plays, with a plentiful dose of physical comedy thrown in. Careful attention has been paid to respecting Shaw’s work without confining it to any specific period.
How He Lied to Her Husband and Overruled are, individually, witty and enjoyable shorts. Presented together they highlight Shaw’s less well-known works and give them a new lease of life. Shaw Shorts marks a welcome return for audiences to the Orange Tree Theatre, for an evening of sparking wit and bonhomie.
Shaw Shorts is at The Orange Tree Theatre Until 26th June 2021