National Theatre Live: Man and Superman (2015)

  |  Comedy, Drama

National Theatre Live: Man and Superman (2015) Poster

Academy Award® nominee Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Schindler's List, Oedipus at the National Theatre) plays Jack Tanner in this exhilarating reinvention of Shaw's witty, provocative classic.


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15 June 2019 | TheLittleSongbird
| Super-sized triumph
George Bernard Shaw's play 'Man and Superman' is fascinating, it is a massive work with a dauntingly enormous amount of text (that could be deemed as "long-winded") mostly spoken by the lead character. A role that would be a contender for the biggest challenge of the best of actors (James Tyrone is another). Plus because of the amount of dialogue it is often deemed unstageable. Along with some of the generalisations that the play has that goes either way, it is those three things that make the play seldom performed.

Had no doubt that this production of 'Man and Superman' would work, regardless of the difficulties of the play. The National Theatre Live series does not have many misfires and the cast is a talented one. But my main reason for not having any doubts is because Ralph Fiennes is such a fine actor, who can play villains, tortured (personality, not the action) characters and conflicted anti-heroes adeptly and he has had his fair share of characters not easy to pull off. And work it did, pretty phenomenally acually. It is a complete and faithful production, even having the often cut third act, very long and the hardest to stage and has been deemed extraneous by some, in hell.

'Man and Superman' looks great, with the different settings for the acts (the town-house, the wild, hell and the villa), being well designed and well contrasted with each other. The villa setting's my favourite though, the most visually beautiful of them, the third act is visually suitably dream-like and nightmarish, which is in my mind exactly the right approach, justifying its inclusion. It's not traditional, but didn't ever question or even notice that and was happy that it looked as appealing as it did and done so tastefully. That's not always the case with updated settings.

Such a great job is done with the staging. What has been deemed unstageable is brought to vibrant life. With so much text, there was the worry of it badly dragging and become very tedious from being too talky, Act 3 particularly with all the philosophical debating. Luckily a lot of energetic zest is infused and the wit is really brought out in the way the actors deliver their lines. The chemistry between Fiennes and Indira Varma absolutely scorches and brings so much life to everything. A lot of intelligent touches and most of all everything makes sense and is done in good taste.

Varma is suitably poised and witty as Ann and the supporting cast play their roles expertly. Fiennes' performance dominates and it is a triumph, the character is not a bore (and he can be) but very charismatic with great comic timing and a twinkle in his eye.

In conclusion, brilliant. 10/10

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