first night

Arms and the Man

Nikhil Vyas reviews DUCT's Arms and the Man

Written by George Bernard Shaw in 1894, Arms and the Man tells the story of Raina Petkoff, a Bulgarian upper class woman who, whilst her husband is away fighting the Serbians, has to deal with a mysterious Swiss mercenary who climbs through her window in the middle of the night. As someone who's not a fan of Bernard Shaw's best-known play, Pygmalion, I was a little unsure of what to expect when I entered the Assembly Rooms. Yet once the play got started any doubts were quelled: director Sam Westwood, assistant director Steph Horrocks and the rest of the team have pulled off a slick, hilarious and poignant production. 

They are aided in this by a cast that is, for the most part, superb. While there was initially a slight tendency to rush lines, which hampered the flow of the first act, this was soon resolved, and everyone grew to completely immerse themselves in their characters. As Raina Petkoff, Izzie Price effortlessly combined her character's ditziness and vacuous flights of fancy with a genuine sense of emotional grounding, especially in her later scenes with John Halstead (Sergius Saranoff). Josh Williams elicited fits of laughter from the audience as Raina's father Major Petkoff, with his blustering attempts to put on his overcoat and his ridiculously gruff delivery being particular highlights. Josie Williams brought a great deal of sass and confidence to the part of the serving girl Louka, who has the honour of being hit on by every male character onstage. Yet for me the two best performances came from Erin Welch (Catherine Petkoff) and Archie Law (Captain Bluntschli). Welch's mixture of maternal fussiness, absurdly high-pitched delivery and utter sense of naturalness on stage were an absolute delight to witness. Similarly, as the pragmatic and good-natured Swiss mercenary who instigates the action of the play, Law exhibited awkwardness, wit and was utterly sympathetic with his pleas to order and common sense.

Another highlight of the play was the stage design. Producers Zoe Coxon, Charlotte Thomas and Elle Pickston have gone all out in their effort to render a historical aristocratic house, with a Christmas tree, a specially constructed window, beautiful costumes, bespoke furniture and most impressively, a portrait of Halstead.  There were none of the usual first night tech hiccups- praise should go to TD Caleb Bond, whose carefully modulated night lighting made for some stunning visual moments. 

This is a play that operates on a number of levels: romantic comedy, costume drama, and a biting satire of war and upper class behaviour. The success of the directors was evident in the way it easily alternated between all these various themes. I felt that the production was somewhat less successful in dealing with politics, with the energy dipping a little as the characters discussed the ins and outs of the Serbo-Bulgarian conflict. However, this did not stop it from being thought provoking, poignant and above all, very funny. With Arms And the Man, DUCT has continued on what has been a very successful run of plays this year. 



23 January 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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