Man and Superman (National Theatre Live)
Cert: 12A / 210 mins / Dir. Simon Godwin / Trailer
Okay, usual rules apply: I'm not a theatre critic*1, so I can only really review what's put in front of me with a limited comparative range.
National Theatre Live brings us the full (ie three and a half hour) version of Bernard Shaw's thought-provoking comedy, Man And Superman, broadcast live from London's South Bank. With only a limited forearming, I have to say I enjoyed this very much, and without having seen a period-version of the 1903 play, the modern setting used for this adaptation is seamless, and it's a testament to the writing that it doesn't feel like it's over a century old (there are telltale tweaks here and there, but for the most part it's essentially timeless; or certainly not dependent on its temporal setting).
Ralph Fiennes is absolutely on fire in the central role, of course, even if he quite often seems to be channelling his best Leonard Rossiter. Indira Varma, Nicholas le Provost and Tim McMullan are also fantastic, almost bursting out from Fiennes' shadow until he opens his mouth and covers them again. That's no reflection on Ralph, but this really is his play. There's some slight overacting from time to time, including borderline shouting at close range and performers looking around the audience when talking to other characters. I suppose this is standard (indeed, expected) for a theatrical production, but it seems more noticeable when you're watching it in a cinema. It never derails things, but you will be aware of it.
Fiennes' dual characters of Jack Tanner and Don Juan bring a wonderful interpretation of Shaw's mixture of idealism, misguided assumption and quest to discover spiritual and moral truth. With his performance in particular, it's important to remember not to conflate the opinions of a character with those of the author. The behaviour and attitudes in the play are supposed to ask questions, not answer them*2. The piece's longstanding 'optional' segment, Act 3, or Don Juan in Hell, is a lengthy debate on the nature of morality. Independent from the overall story structure, it's actually far wittier than the rest of the play, and is arguably more interesting, too. The philosophical elements of the play in its entirety seem to work better than the humourous ones. They certainly seem more relevant, at any rate. In fact, I think I understood the meaning of the philosophy more than I did that of the narrative. Which felt slightly awkward.
Three and a half hours may seem like a long time, but it soon whizzes by as Shaw's play has no downtime, and the cast's performance of it is spellbinding. The twenty minute interval was punctuated in the cinema broadcast by a featurette including an interview with director Simon Godwin. This was a particularly nice touch for those of us not having to queue for the toilets, and I hope it's something that National Theatre Live will continue in other shows.
All in all: quite marvellous, but requires further reading. I definitely get the impression I'd have gotten more out of Man And Superman if I'd been familiar with earlier versions. Because it's difficult to fully appreciate perfection when that's all you're given…
If you get the chance to see it either live or broadcast to your local: do so, yes..
The performance requires constant concentration, so a dedicated sit-down is needed, be that rental or to-buy when it becomes available.
Despite a touch of pantomiming, the principal cast are on fine form here, yes.
I think so, but any doubt is on my part, not that of the cast and crew.
Ralph Fiennes starred as Hades in 2012's Wrath Of The Titans, a movie which also featured Liam 'Qui-Gon' Neeson.
*1 Although some would add that I'm barely a film critic either; a remark with which I'd be inclined to agree - I'm a film reviewer. Massive difference, I assure you.
*2 And there's me lecturing you on how to enjoy theatre. Yeah. Although the point should stand for all writing, be it theatre, film, TV or literature. That said, sometimes an unbearable character is the mark of an unlikeable writer. Ted 2 comes out later this year...
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.