Misalliance, At The Tabard Theatre

Penny Flood reviews one of George Bernard Shaw's lesser known plays


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Misalliance, one of Shaw’s lesser known plays, tells the story of a bored heiress who thinks it’s time to get married. More farcical than most of his plays, this allows Shaw to ride one of his hobby horses: a tongue-in-cheek exploration of why people get married and what makes them fall for each other in the first place. Sexual attraction is the theme running through this with offers of marriage popping up in unlikely places.

It’s very clever and very funny, combining as it does Shaw’s intellect, his sense of humour and an appreciation of the absurd. Here we have a plane crash, a sexy Polish acrobat, aristocrats, a self made millionaire, a gun toting office clerk and a Turkish bath, all packaged in a very slick, professional production.

The action takes place in a single afternoon in a rather lovely Edwardian drawing room in the house of self-made millionaire John Tarleton (Clifford Hume), who made his fortune selling underwear. His wife Chickabiddy (Carrie Cohen), and their daughter Hypatia ((Roberta Mair) are sitting sewing and Hypatia is bored stiff, she’s young, pretty and rich and looking for excitement and a husband.

Hypatia is considering marriage to Bentley Summerhays (James Taylor Thomas), a spoilt brat whose only redeeming feature seems to be that his father is Lord Summerhays (Toby Davies). This means that Hypatia would marry into the aristocracy, and there’s the misalliance. In Edwardian times it was generally thought that marrying into a lower class damaged the aristocratic line. Interestingly, that thought doesn’t enter the mind of Lord Summerhays, who has his own reasons for hanging around the Tarleton household.


The two passengers in the plane, which crashes into the greenhouse, are the suave Joey Percival (Piers Hunt) and the Polish acrobat Lina Szczepanowska (Anna Marlene-Wirtz), catalysts for some terrific flights of fancy as what started as a peaceful afternoon turns into anything but. By a great coincidence Hypatia has had her eye on Percival for a while, and Lord Summerhays and Lina have met before, although that’s something he’s anxious to keep quiet. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more complicated or funnier, the disgruntled, appropriately named clerk Gunner turns up waving a pistol, seeking justice for his mother who once knew John Tarleton.

John Tarleton, a big, bluff Yorkshire man with a big presence is the star of this show. He considers himself to be a man of ideas and he’s got lots of them. He’s also a bit of a philanthropist, supporting free libraries, and encouraging anybody within earshot to read. A voracious reader himself, he peppers his speech with literary quotes to suit almost any occasion or to support his line of thought. At one point, when a situation leaves him lost for words, he just says he’ll have to go and read King Lear.

It’s not perfect, some of the acting could have been tighter, but most of the fault lies with Shaw. His tendency to didacticism runs away with itself as some of the points are layered on a bit too thick, especially at the end when Lina makes a very long speech about what’s wrong with English society - snobbery, hypocrisy and sexual hang ups. We understand where she’s coming from, we get it, we’ve just seen the play, and the summing up of what we’ve just seen isn’t really necessary. But don’t let that put you off, this is a great chance to see a rarely performed Shaw work in Chiswick, and better take a bottle or water with you, it’s long and you can’t always trust the Tabard air conditioning.

Box Office www.tabardtheatre.co.uk

June 13, 2014

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