In his director’s notes, Tim Carroll states, “Shaw believed that academics and critics are much more concerned with this kind of unity [consistency of tone] than audiences ever are, and, from my experience I’d say he was right.”
I agree entirely but with the caveat that—given his own considerable labours as a critic—Shaw may very well have been quietly poking fun at himself.
Carroll’s vision of the playwright’s inventive take on the timeless tale of kindness conquers all, is a sad commentary on how many directors/audiences are more and more content going for the cheap laugh than driving home the wry wit.
Arriving at the Court House Theatre five minutes before “curtain,” the cast were happily engaged with audience members at their seats. It felt like a global, on-line chatroom where, sadly, innocuous conversations set the stage for the free-form production to come.
Eventually, we learned that the role of Lion would be undertaken by a ticket buyer, selected at random (by yet another theatregoer) depending on the colour of the, er, balls! (And yes, the MC du jour—rotating in democratic fashion—did find her way to the obvious “snap snap, grin grin, wink wink, nudge nudge say no more” joke a few giggles down the road.)
We also discovered that throughout the performance—again depending on the colour-coded spheres tossed on stage by several of the patrons—the actual play would be immediately interrupted by such additions as a song, personal anecdote from a cast member or bits and pieces of Shaw’s typically lengthy preface.
In this manner—and much more so than typical live theatre—no viewings could ever be alike—much less true to the ebb and flow of the far-reaching urtext.
But don’t stop there: off-script asides (e.g., “Sorry, no trees—the budget went to the musical”; cross-reference below), instant audience surveys (“Have you ever said something you’ve regretted?”—like sheep to the slaughter, most of my seatmates dutifully raised their hands—perhaps some of them even Christians!), commandeering a cane and then begging for actual cash when needed for the on-stage scene (I am not making this up: three donors on this occasion soon saw their contributions paraded to one and all in a bucket destined for the Actors Benevolent Fund).
With so much non-Shavian hilarity trumped up (pun intended), it wasn’t surprising that the few moments of uninterrupted lines mightily paled in comparison to the 21st century gags.
The many farcical injections (best of show: Jay Turvey’s limp whip as he stoically played Ox Driver) had to compete with The Three Stooges-like slapstick (Shawn Wright’s Centurion dutifully hurt more than his pride, bashing his helmet in injurious salutes) for the biggest yuk award.
When the doomed Christians (soon to certain death in the Colosseum) began belting out the altered lyrics of “Onward Christian Soldiers” (they would soon be a crunchy meal indeed), gleefully on their way to their fate (this attitude was intended by Shaw), I decided to step boldly into the spirit of our Me-I, self-centred social media society, opting to change this channel in vain search of substance elsewhere. JWR