Ralph Fiennes Triumphs In Shaw's Man And Superman

By Stuart Black Last edited 88 months ago
Ralph Fiennes Triumphs In Shaw's Man And Superman ★★★★★ 5

MAN AND SUPERMAN by Shaw,           , writer - Bernard Shaw,  Director - Simon Godwin, Designer - Christopher Oram, Lighting - James Farncombe, The National Theatre, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/
Tim McMullan as the Devil, Indira Varma as Ann, Ralph Fiennes as Don Juan/John Tanner and Nicolas Le Provost as Malone.

Londonist Rating: ★★★★★

George Bernard Shaw injected a lifetime of wisdom into his 1903 masterpiece Man and Superman, and in this superlative new production at the National Theatre we get a distinguished actor able to match that commitment. Ralph Fiennes is stellar. From the moment he bursts into the study of his arch-rival to complain about becoming the legal guardian of a wily heiress, right up to his final protestations as he is forced into the ‘slavery’ of domesticity, Fiennes commands the stage like few other actors in the country could dream of doing.

It is a rich story, a variation on the Don Juan legend which takes left turns into the Sierra Nevada and also into Hell itself — all of which are stunningly, hilariously realised by director Simon Godwin and designer Christopher Oram.

It is a strange yet deeply satisfying play, partly a thesis on morality and marriage, partly a takedown of soapy melodrama — and by implication the soapier side of life as well. And it demands a great performance at its centre to draw these threads together. So back we then come to Fiennes who gives us a Jack Tanner far too nuanced to sum up in a few words here (though we will have a try).

As a philosopher trying to live by the code he’s invented in his scandalous Revolutionist's Handbook, Fiennes’s Tanner both swaggers with cocksure self-assurance but also twitches nervously, having the faint hunch of a man who’s spent most of his life behind a desk before being unleashed into public life (the play starts with a bit of Tanner flirting on Desert Island Discs). He is reminiscent of a cricketer standing at the crease, waiting for each ball, ready to smack the stitches out of each one that comes at him. And he does exactly that. Character after character tries to take Tanner on with opposing ideologies but they barely ever touch him. In fact, the only one who really defeats Tanner is Tanner himself whenever he argues himself into a corner. Here Fiennes brings to bear the impeccable comic instincts he demonstrated recently in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The supporting cast is also excellent, in particular Indira Varma as Ann, the shape-shifting woman who may just have the power to clip Tanner’s wings — perhaps. Also very funny are Nicolas Le Provost and Tim McMullan, especially during the scene set in Hell which is beautifully rendered and full of delicious flourishes. This is a meaty, profound comedy that still feels incredibly fresh and relevant today. Really, it’s just a shame it’s already sold out...

... But day tickets and returns should be available, while on 14 May the show will be broadcast to 560 cinemas as part of the NT Live scheme. Man and Superman runs until 17 May. Tickets are £15-£55. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 26 February 2015