The institution of marriage has long been touted as the bedrock of society. The legal/religious union of woman and man—most importantly to procreate the species—was based on the sacred commitment of two persons declaring their love before God or his early representatives.
Yet, since the parties are human beings, things don’t always work out. In times past, divorce was often seen as the first-cousin of the plague or warts. “Stay together for the sake of the children” was the easy rationalization of couples in trouble who—in many cases—should never have tied the knot in the first place. Making it more difficult to marry than to split makes perfect sense to all but the legal profession.
In modern times, the likelihood of divorce has far better odds than beating the casino; the growing adoption of same-sex statutes can only increase the pool of couples whose steadfast vows may not survive the honeymoon.
With all of that as context, George Bernard Shaw’s Getting Married has as much if not more to say today than at its première at the Haymarket Theatre, London a century ago.
Opening night of the fourth trip to the altar (previously seen here in 1972, 1989 & 1999) had the added drama of David Schurmann’s viral laryngitis. Stoically, artistic director Jackie Maxwell announced that the long-serving actor would, nonetheless, perform as Alfred Bridgenorth, Bishop of Chelsea (“Now that you know it, forget it,” we were advised) but his obviously stressed, cracking voice—even aided by mechanical reinforcement—could not be ignored. Unfortunately, the domino effect on the listed understudies prevented a more humane solution. And what a potential risk: a few years back there might have been clamouring for gowns, gloves and masks at the very mention of any word related to “virus.”
As the playwright’s entry into the canon of Greek form (one set, real-time, continuous action), there is little left to delight the eye once Sue Lepage’s granite-gray/wood set has been observed and the costumes have been paraded (notably Peter Krantz’s regal carriage of General “Boxer” Bridgenorth’s dress uniform and Father Anthony Soames’ cap which managed a chuckle all on its own due in no small part to Norman Browning’s magnificently droll characterization). Apart from a few peals from the church bells and slight aural hint that Mrs. George (Laurie Paton, who lit up the stage after the interval) is in a trance, there’s nary a note of music to further colour the proceedings.
And so it falls to the ensemble to keep the typically wordy script going. Coaxed, cajoled and expertly prodded by director Joseph Ziegler, the scenes move steadily forward—this troupe is more than up to the wedding day follies.
Reginald, the third Bridgenorth brother is delivered with a convincingly frazzled tone by Peter Millard who has gallantly assaulted his much younger wife (Nicola Correia-Damude) in front of their gardener then checked into a hotel with the handiest strumpet in order to allow the love of his life a speedy divorce and chance to remarry immediately. Who says the English aren’t gallant? The object of her carnal affection is the family’s best friend, the delightfully named, “face like a mushroom” St. John Hotchkiss (Martin Happer is a wonderfully honest lecher) who further complicates/resolves everyone’s relationships by publically declaring his love/lust for Mrs. George—herself no stranger to extra marital assignations: whether one-night stands on terra firma or imagining heavenly humps in the next life.
The glue to all of the comings and goings is the imminent marriage of last-of-the-daughters Edith Bridgenorth (Krista Colosimo) to Cecil Sykes (Gray Powell). But both have second thoughts as, locked up separately with a pamphlet and a book about the actual responsibilities of getting hitched, they get cold feet: he’s afraid of pecuniary ruin, she wants to be valued and paid for housework.
All of these pronouncements and partner roulette are wryly observed by what-better-name-for-instant-subtext, Lesbia Grantham (brought to life with elegance and panache by Fiona Byrne). The middle-aged spinster is finally moved to have an “alliance” with the desperate-for-her Boxer (asking for her hand at every family gathering but steadfastly refused by the modern woman who can’t abide tobacco smoke and values her independence more than conjugal bliss). All that stands in the way is a legally binding contract which the lawyer-trained, celibate Father Anthony attempts to draft—based on the “instructions” of the comfortably married, a would-be polygamist and not a few who sleep first, take-the-consequences-later hedonists.
Not even the sage advice of green grocer by day, alderman by night William Collins (Michael Ball in top form) can bring this tale to a happily ever after and so dalliances, drudgery and denialism continue to permeate pairings of all kinds all over the globe.JWR