is a play written by George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...
, first published in 1919 and first played at the Garrick Theatre (New York) in 1920. According to A. C. Ward, the work argues that "cultured, leisured Europe" was drifting toward destruction, and that "Those in a position to guide Europe to safety failed to learn their proper business of political navigation". (p. 164)
On the eve of World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...
, Ellie Dunn, her father, and her fiancé are invited to one of Hesione Hushabye’s infamous dinner parties. Unfortunately, her fiancé is a scoundrel, her father’s a bumbling prig, and she’s actually in love with Hector, Hesione’s husband. This bold mix of farce and tragedy lampoons British society as it blithely sinks towards disaster.
The house could arguably be a metaphorical reference to a ship which must be guided capably, not only by its crew, but also its passengers. Each character in the house represents some facet of British society, Mangan being the nouveau riche capitalist, Hesione the flighty Bohemian, Ellie a struggling member of the lower class and so on.
One of Shaw's most important and evident themes is reality versus appearances. By the end of the play, each character is revealed to be nothing like who they appeared to be in the beginning.
Mangan, who was reported to be "a Napoleon of industry" is revealed in the third act to be virtually penniless and incapable of running his own businesses. It is in fact Mazzini who runs Mangan's businesses although he at first appears mild and incompetent.
Mazzini's belief in fate ruling his life reinforces his feeble ability to control his situation and according to the captain dooms the ship to destruction unless competent navigation can be learned:
Captain Shotover: "Navigation. Learn it and live; or leave it and be damned." (p. 141)
Play in Performance
is not often performed due to its complex structure, however it is argued that the genius of the play cannot be fully appreciated without seeing it in performance. Its subject-matter is the ignorance and indifference exhibited by the upper and upper-middle classes to the First World War and its consequences. The self-indulgence and lack of understanding of the high-class characters are central issues in British society at the time that the play illuminates.
The play is being performed at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada (www.shawfest.com) in summer 2011.
It is available on VHS tape based on the 1985 TV version directed by Anthony Page
Anthony Page is a British stage- and film director.-Filmography:*Male of the Species 3-episode TV special that featured Sir Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield, Sean Connery and Michael Caine. The Scofield episode, Emlyn, won an Emmy Award...
, with Rex Harrison
Sir Reginald Carey “Rex” Harrison was an English actor of stage and screen. Harrison won an Academy Award and two Tony Awards.-Youth and stage career:...
as Shotover, Amy Irving
Amy Davis Irving is an American actress, known for her roles in the films Crossing Delancey, The Fury, Carrie, and Yentl as well as acclaimed roles on Broadway and Off-Broadway. She has been nominated for an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, and has won an Obie award...
as Ellie, and Rosemary Harris
Rosemary Ann Harris is an English actress and a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame. Throughout her career she has been nominated for an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award and has won a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Tony Award, an Obie, and five Drama Desk Awards.-Early life:Harris was born in...
as Hesione. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089262/
Also available on DVD based on the 1977 version directed by Cedric Messina
Cedric Messina was a South African born British television producer and director for the BBC of mainly classic drama...
, with John Gielgud
Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...
as Shotover, Lesley-Anne Down
Lesley-Anne Down is a British film and television actress, former model and singer.Down achieved fame as Georgina Worsley in the ITV drama series Upstairs, Downstairs...
as Ellie, and Siân Phillips
Jane Elizabeth Ailwên "Siân" Phillips, CBE, is a Welsh actress.-Early life:Phillips was born in Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, Neath Port Talbot, Wales, the daughter of Sally , a teacher, and David Phillips, a steelworker-turned-policeman...